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Harriet Knafler

Research Fellow, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences

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Biography

I studied for a BSc in Microbiology at the University of Sheffield, starting in 2012. Here I learnt about a wide range of microbes and their importance in both human health and biotechnology. I enjoyed the course and the research environment so much that I decided to stay for my PhD. I completed my PhD in the lab of Professor Kathryn Ayscough, studying the process of endocytosis in the human fungal pathogen Candida albicans. After completing my PhD I worked for a diagnostics laboratory during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, before moving to the University of Nottingham for my first postdoctoral position, in Dr John Heap's lab. Here I am using a synthetic biology approach to overcome product and feedstock inhibitions in syngas fermentation by the bacterium Clostridium autoethanogenum.

Expertise Summary

During my undergraduate degree at the University of Sheffield, I gained a thorough understanding of the basic biology of bacteria and other microorganisms. My degree also had a strong research focus, giving me an understanding of many general molecular biology techniques and research methods. During my PhD I gained a deeper understanding of molecular and cell biology, including signalling pathways and membrane trafficking. I worked on the fungus Candida albicans, and gained expertise in the culture and genetic manipulation of this eukaryotic microorganism. During my current role I am developing my skills in the area of synthetic biology and regulatory network rewiring.

Research Summary

My current research in Dr John Heap's lab looks at the bacteria Clostridium autoethanogenum, a microbe with huge potential uses to humankind. These bacteria can grow on syngas - a mixture of carbon… read more

Current Research

My current research in Dr John Heap's lab looks at the bacteria Clostridium autoethanogenum, a microbe with huge potential uses to humankind. These bacteria can grow on syngas - a mixture of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas, produced as industrial waste. It then ferments these gases into ethanol, a key useful product which can also be further converted into jet fuel. This process has huge potential benefits for global greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. My research project is partially funded by the company LanzaTech, and involves using cutting edge synthetic biology methods developed in the Heap lab, to improve this process by improving product and feedstock inhibitions.

Past Research

For the past four years I have been working in the lab of Professor Kathryn Ayscough, at the University of Sheffield. Here I worked on the human fungal pathogen Candida albicans. I wanted to discover more about hyphal growth - a key virulence factor in this fungus. I used a variety of genetic manipulation and imaging techniques to study a component of the endocytic pathway, the endocytic adaptor complex AP-2. I found that AP-2 plays a key role in Candida albicans hyphal growth via the recycling of a specific cell wall biosynthesis enzyme. Insights such as this could be useful for future antifungal drugs studies.

Future Research

I am interested in all aspects of microbiology, from learning more about disease causing microbes, to studying and improving microbes for biotechnology. I believe that microbes have huge potential to help us develop a more sustainable society with greener transport and industries. In the future I would like to focus on using genetic tools to unlock more of this potential.

School of Life Sciences

University of Nottingham
Medical School
Queen's Medical Centre
Nottingham NG7 2UH

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