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Thomas Smith

Professor Tom Smith BSc, PhD

Professor of Microbiology

  • Research

    • Biomolecular Sciences Research Centre

    Bacterial oxygenases

    Bacteria that can grow using hydrocarbons as their sole source of carbon and energy produce oxygenases that have the ability to perform specific oxygenation of a wide range of hydrocarbons and chlorinated organic compounds, many of which are unreactive towards oxidation by chemical means. Bacterial oxygenases are thus potentially useful in bioremediation and, thanks to the remarkable stereo- and regio-selectivity that such enzymes can demonstrate, have potential applications in the synthesis of fine chemicals.

    Soluble methane monooxygenase (sMMO) from methane-oxidising bacteria naturally oxidises methane to methanol, which is the first step in biological oxidation of the potent greenhouse gas methane. It also co-oxidises a wide range of hydrocarbon and chlorinated hydrocarbon substrates. We are using mutagenesis-based methods to investigate and manipulate the very wide substrate range of sMMO and to investigate the mechanism of oxidation of the enzyme's kinetically unreactive substrate methane. This work is currently funded by a grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and is a collaboration with Professor J Colin Murrell at the University of East Anglia. We are also working with Professor John Lipscomb (University of Minnesota) to study reaction kinetics in sMMO.

    We are performing structure-function studies on alkene monooxygenase (AMO), which is produced by the alkene-oxidising bacterium Rhodococcus rhodochrous B-276 and can be used to produce high-value chiral epoxides.

    New expression systems for biocatalysts

    In addition to the expression systems that have already been developed for AMO and sMMO, work is also underway exploring the expression of stereoselective oxygenases in a bacterium that grows using methanol as its carbon and energy source in order to produce high-value biocatalysts using methanol as the feedstock. This project is in collaboration with Dr C Míguez and co-workers at the Biotechnology Research Institute, Montreal.

    Molecular environmental microbiology of the hospital ward environment

    We are applying molecular microbial ecology methods, including the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) to study populations of microorganisms and resistance genes within the internal environment of hospital wards and other areas, as a new tool to study the role of the environment in hospital-acquired infections. This work is a collaboration with Dr Karen Stanley (Sheffield Hallam) and Mr Robert Kerry and Dr Robert Townsend (Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust). It is funded by the Hospital Infection Society.

    Microbiological applications in materials science

    Research is underway into applications of bacteria within materials science, including inhibition of corrosion and biofouling and development of biosensors. This work is in collaboration with Professor Bob Akid at the University of Manchester. Work on development of a novel coating containing 'good' bacteria for inhibition of biofouling and corrosion is currently supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

    Novel antimicrobial systems

    Work is under way to develop a new controlled-release coating for local delivery of antibiotics and other therapeutic agents for use on orthopedic prostheses and other surgical implants. This work is a collaboration with Professor Bob Akid at the University of Manchester and Dr Robert Townsend and Professor Ian Stockley (Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS trust).

    We are also working on isolation and characterisation of antimicrobial agents from natural products, including celery seeds. This work is a collaboration with Professor K D Rainsford (Sheffield Hallam University) and Dr Graham Stafford (School of Clinical Dentistry, University of Sheffield) and Dr Simon Jones (Department of Chemistry, University of Sheffield).

    Bioremediation of heavy metal and organic pollutants

    Microorganisms can be exploited to mitigate environmental pollution, by oxidising organic pollutants (such as hydrocarbons and chlorinated hydrocarbons) and by changing the speciation of heavy metals to make them less bioavailable. Work in collaboration with Dr Philip Gardiner investigates the potential of methane-oxidising and other environmental bacteria to remediate hexavalent chromium contamination. Other work is concerned with bioremediation of wastes from the petroleum industry.

  • Publications

  • Postgraduate supervision

    Hania Aween - Investigating the molecular basis of bioremediation by methane oxidising bacteria

    Salaheldeen Enbaia - Bioremediation of heavy metal pollution using methane oxidising bacteria

    Sophie Hutchinson - Investigation of plant products for the development of new antimicrobial drugs



    Previous supervision:

    Yasin Al-Luaibi - Molecular Genetics and Microbiology of Bioremediation using Methane-Oxidising Bacteria

    Mariam Ismael - Bioremediation of Metals and Metalloids by Environmental Bacteria

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