Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences

Staff Profile

Dr Nick Watkins

Senior Lecturer


BSc. Hons Molecular Biology, University of Liverpool
Ph.D. U7 snRNP and histone gene expression, University of Liverpool

Previous positions
1997-2003 Postdoc. Max-Planck-Institut BPC, Göttingen, Germany.
1994-1997 Postdoc. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, USA.

Honours and Awards - Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship (1997 - 1999)


Research Interests
The Watkins lab is interested in the production of eukaryotic ribosomes. These large, RNA-protein complexes are responsible for the synthesis of all cellular protein. Regulating ribosome production therefore controls the rate of protein synthesis and this in turn determines how fast the cell can grow. Ribosome production is upregulated in almost all cancers. Our research falls into two basic areas:

1) Small nucleolar (sno)RNPs and ribosomal (r)RNA modification.
SnoRNPs are RNA-protein complexes that catalyse the post-transcriptional modification of rRNA. Defects in rRNA modification have been linked to the genetic disease Treacher-Collins syndrome. The modifications, the most common of which are 2'-O-methylation and pseudouridylation, are clustered around functionally important regions of the ribosome and are essential for efficient translation. The RNA component of the snoRNP selects the site of modification by base-pairing with the target site in the rRNA. These base-pairing interactions are also predicted to regulate the folding of the rRNA. We are interested in the mechanism by which the snoRNPs are recruited to the ribosomal RNA and how these complexes modulate rRNA folding and ribosome assembly.

2) Regulation of ribosome biogenesis in human cells.
Ribosome production is directly linked to the tumour suppressor proteins p53, p14-ARF and Rb and is regulated by the proto-oncogene c-Myc. The nucleolus is a major stress sensor in the cell, and disruption of its structure (as shown in the figure on the left) leads to p53 stabilisation. Most of the current knowledge about eukaryotic ribosome production is derived from studies in yeast and we are building on this by investigating the basic mechanism of ribosome synthesis, and its regulation, in human cells. We are particularly interested in how this process is controlled during cellular differentiation and transformation..

Postgraduate Supervision
Current PhD students: Loren Macdonald, Andria Pelava



Undergraduate Teaching

  1. CMB2002
  2. BGM3009
  3. BGM3039
  4. BGM3035 - module leader

MRes Teaching

  1. MMB8018