Centre for Synthetic Biology and the Bioeconomy

Staff Profile

Professor Neil Gray

Professor of Geomicrobiology



 I have over 25 years research experience in experimental approaches and techniques which explicitly link microbial biodiversity’s structure to function and geochemical conditions. These approaches and techniques have been applied widely to determine changes in community structure, relative abundance and activities of micro-organisms in response to natural and artificial environmental perturbations. I have applied these techniques to study varied geochemical processes (sulfur cycling, nitrogen cycling, methanogenesis, methane oxidation) in a number of different geochemical environments (soils, freshwater and marine sediments) with the overall objective of understanding how microorganisms influence the geosphere and visa versa.


As a Geomicrobiologist I am fascinated by the interaction of microbes with their geochemical environments. It is clear to me that these interactions have far reaching effects on ecosystems, global processes and human societies. I am often struck by the relevance of microbial communities and their activities (which occur at relatively such small scales) to the larger scale environmental issues e.g. ecosystem damage and regeneration, climate change and its mitigation, soil productivity and health, water quality). This is of course because of the shear diversity and distribution of microbial processes. Compared to plants and animals microbes use a staggering range of metabolic paths to consume inorganic and organic substrates. New metabolisms are still being discovered and it is this richness which allows microbes to directly influence environments stretching from the deep biosphere to the upper atmosphere.

Area of Expertise

Geomicrobiology and biogeochemistry


PhD Chemistry (Cardiff University, 1994)

BSc (hons) Chemistry (Cardiff University, 1989)

Roles and responsibilities

Geoscience PG degree programme director   

Module Leader for CEG8601 Research Methods

Lecturer Introduction to Microbiology CEG8604

Lecturer  Solid Waste Management CEG8105

Lecturer Engineering Biology through Molecular Microbial Ecology CEG8109

CEGs Radiation Protection Supervisor   

Member of the University Radiation committee

Member of CEGs safety committee


Member of the Society for General Microbiology

Google Scholar


Research Interests

Microbial diversity and its link to function;
Ecological mechanisms which control microbial diversity and distribution;
The freshwater sedimentary sulfur cycle;
The geomicrobilogy of constructed wetlands;
The effect of soil improvement treatments on microbially mediated geochemical processes (nitrification, denitrification, methanogenesis and methane oxidation;
The use of stable isotopes to determine pathways of carbon mineralization in freshwater, estuarine, and marine environments;
Petroleum degradation in aerobic soils and sediments and in anaerobic near and deep sub-surface environments

Postgraduate Supervision

Current students

Katie Gilmour

Sola Olawuyi

Salisa Suchitwarsan: Potential for growth enhancement by arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in potato: Dr Julia Cooper, Dr Neil Gray, Dr Ankush Prashar 

Burhan Shamurad: Integrating waste resources for improved production of renewable energy and utilisable digestate: Dr Paul Sallis, Dr Neil Gray 

Alex Mutshow: Effect of Weathering and Biodegradation on Makers used in Oil Fingerprinting: Dr Martin Jones, Dr Neil Gray

Past students

Dr. Pete Leary: Microbial diversity and function in radionuclide impacted soils and sediments: Supervisors Dr Neil Gray, Dr Clare McCann 

Dr. Priscilla Carrillo-Barragan: Development of a microbial consortium for bioprocessing of municipal solid waste for ethanol production: Supervisors: Dr Neil Gray, Jan Dolfing, Dr Paul Sallis

Dr. Tetyana Olegivna Korin: Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology of Petroleum Systems: Supervisors: Prof. Ian Head, Dr Casey Hubert, Dr Neil Gray

Dr. Graham Purvis: The characterisation of organic material in geological samples as analogue for life detection on Mars and other bodies in the solar system Supervisors: Dr Neil Gray, Dr Geoff Abbot

Dr Isabel Sierra Garcia (Occasional student): Investigation of crude oil anaerobic biodegradation in microcosms by microbiota from Brazilian oil reservoir samples: Supervisors: Dr Neil Gray, Prof. Ian Head

Dr Emma Bell: Microbial Biogeography and the Deep Biosphere. Supervisors: Dr Casey Hubert, Prof. Ian Head, Dr Neil Gray

Dr Sani Makarfi: The variability, stability and impacts of biochars in soil environments Supervisors: Dr Neil Gray, Prof. David Manning

Dr Obioma Mejeha: A study on the microbial uptake of heavy metals associated with crude oil using hydrocarbon degrading microorganisms: Supervisors: Dr Neil Gray, Prof. Ian Head, Dr Martin Jones

Dr Safiya Mohammed Othoman: A Novel Source of Potassium in Southern Libyan soils Supervisors: Dr Kirsten Brandt, Dr Neil Gray, Prof. David Manning

Dr Kate Osborne Title: Investigating the environmental controls of hopanoid biosynthesis via functional gene analysis Supervisors: Dr Helen Talbot, Angela Sherry, Dr Neil Gray

Dr Lynsay Blake: Methanogenic and methanotrophic processes in temperate and high latitude environments: Supervisors: Dr Neil Gray, Prof. Ian Head

Dr Clare McCann: Mn oxide as a contaminated-land remediation product: Supervisors: Dr Neil Gray, Dr Russell Davenport

Past and Present Funding

Co-Investigator (Newcastle)- NERC Consortium grant NE/P00637X- The Changing Arctic Ocean Seafloor (ChAOS) £402,643 (2017-2020) 

Principle Investigator (Newcastle)- NERC Consortium grant NE/L000326 Long-lived Radionuclides in the Surface Environment (LO-RISE)- Mechanistic Studies of Speciation, Environmental Transport and Transfer £429,767 (2013-2018)

Co-investigator Coal Authority project -Monitoring and optimisation of the Force Crag metal mine water treatment system £301,777 (2015-2018)

Co-investigator EU Knowledge Based Bio Economy Grant. KILL*SPILL Integrated Biotechnological Solutions for Combating Marine Oil Spills £363,436 (2013-2017)

Co-investigator on NERC Small Grant NE/J01446X/1. Impact of methanotrophs, methanogens and geochemical conditions on net methane flux to the atmosphere from Arctic soils. £64,627 (2013)

Co-investigator on NERC Standard Grant NE/J024325/1. OILSPORE Spore-forming hydrocarbon degraders and thermophiles, dispersal from petroleum reservoirs, and a test of the palaeopasteurization hypothesis £445,372 (2012-2015)

Principle scientist - Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme No. 7181-Graphite resources Ltd and Newcastle University Development of anaerobic digestion biotechnology to convert autoclaved MSW into biogas (methane). Technology Stragey Board, £202,000 . 2008-2012

Mitigation of pollution from abandoned metal mines Phase II, £101,000, Environment Agency, 2011-2012

Mitigation of pollution from abandoned metal mines Phase I, £166,000, Environment Agency, 2009-2011 

The effect of copper geochemistry on the abundance and activity of methane oxidizing bacteria in the Arctic’ (NERC small grant, 2009-2010)

Role of methanobactin in methane oxidation rates in the presence of mineral copper: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC): £581,763 from Mar 2008 to Feb 2011 

Crude oil oxidation without an electron acceptor; syntrophic hydrocarbon degrading microbes work together to "crack" a tough problem
Prof Ian Head, Dr Neil Gray, Dr Martin Jones
NERC, 2007-2010, £420,379

The use of waste Mn oxides as contaminated land remediation products
The project represents a close collaboration between the University of Durham (Dr Karen Johnson and Dr Fred Worrell) and Newcastle University (Dr Neil Gray and Russell Davenport).
EPSRC 2007-2010

Biological recovery of energy assets (Brea/Methmax)
Prof Steve Larter, Prof Ian Head, Dr Neil Gray
Industrial sponsors Norsk Hydro, 2005-2007, £337,352

NERC consortium Grant (Universities of Southampton, Bristol, British Antarctic Survey and Newcastle. (2008-11) Chemosynthetically-driven Ecosystems in the Southern Ocean (CHESO). Newcastle component (£346,340) co-author with Nicholas Polunnin (MAST) and Helen Talbot.

Academic fellowships (3 x £125K) 2006-211in Earth Systems Science Engineering and Management obtained under the 2006 RCUK fellowships scheme. Co-authorship with Russell Davenport and Matt King

Leverhulme Trust (Grants to Institutions) Competition, niche adaptation and biogeography in uncultured sulfur bacteria. (£118,559) 20003. Co-authorship with Ian Head.

Esteem Indicators

Invited author Chapter 406: Family Achromatiaceae. In: Rosenberg, E; DeLong, EF; Lory, S; Stackebrandt, E; Thompson, F, eds. The Prokaryotes (4th Edition), Springer.

Member of the Natural Environment Research Council, Peer Review College (2006-2009)

Member of the editorial board of the Journal of Microbiological Methods

Regular reviewer for ISME journal, Journal of Microbiological Methods, FEMS Microbial Ecology, Microbial Ecology, Organic Geochemistry amongst others

Invited article for the Encyclopedia of Ecology to be published by Elsevier in 2008 (written in collaboration with Ian Head)

Paper (Gray et al. ISME J 2007 Nov 1(7):596-605) selected for the Faculty of 1000 Biology www.f1000biology.com/article/id/1103375. Faculty of 1000 Biology is an online service that highlights and evaluates the most interesting papers published in the biological sciences, based on the recommendations of over 2000 of the world's top researchers.

Co-convener of the 12th Molecular Microbial Ecology Group meeting (MMEG12) held at Newcastle 24th-25th July 2006. MMEG is an annual gathering of UK molecular microbial ecologists held on a rotational basis at different institutions throughout the UK.

Invited author for a new book series entitled Microbiology Monographs, The unique role of intracellular calcification in the genus Achromatium. Microbiology Monographs. Vol. 1 Inclusions in Prokaryotes, edited by Jessup Shively, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 299-309

Invited paper and presentation (Minerals, mats, pearls and veils: themes and variations in giant sulfur bacteria) for the Society for General Microbiology's symposium on Microorganisms and Earth Systems: Advances in Geomicrobiology, Keele University, UK. 12-15 September 2005

Research on niche differentiation in Bacteria from the genus Achromatium highlighted in an article entitled-Living together, Nature-microbiology reviews, July 2004

Invited author of a mini-review for the Journal Environmental Microbiology: Linking genetic identity and function in uncultured bacteria (2001. See publications.

Invited author for a special issue of the Journal Hydrobiologia: Molecular Ecology of Aquatic Communities.
(eds), J.P. Zehr & M.A. Voytek (1999). See publications.


Undergraduate teaching 

Module Leader for Research Methods in Environmental pollution CEG2609

Postgraduate Teaching

Degree programme director (DPD) for Environmental Consultancy and Environmental and Petroleum Geochemistry MSc courses 

Module Leader for Research Methods CEG8601

Module Leader for Aqueous Geochemistry CEG8605

Module leader for Energy from the Earth SPG8025

Lecturer Groundwater assessment  CEG8511

Lecturer Professional Development in Environmental Engineering CEG8110 

Lecturer Sources, Fates and Control of pollutants CEG8606

Lecturer Engineering Biology through Molecular Microbial Ecology CEG8109

Lecturer Petroleum in the Environment CEG8626

Lecturer (occasional) Introduction to Microbiology CEG8604