Faculty of Medical Sciences

RNA Biology

Major Research Themes

  • Processing and quality control of coding and non-coding RNAs.
  • RNA localisation and translation

The pool of RNA in a cell includes both messenger (coding) RNA and non-coding RNAs that are key components of cellular systems. All nascent transcripts are, to some degree, processed (including splicing/editing). The accuracy of processing, localisation and/or assembly into complexes, are fundamental aspects of cell biology and defects in RNA metabolism are linked to many inherited diseases, as well as cancer. RNA metabolism, including translational efficiency of mRNAs, frequently changes through development or in response to extracellular signals /stresses.


Research within the RNA group encompasses a broad range of in vivo and in vitro technologies in diverse experimental systems (yeast, tissue culture) and cellular compartments (nucleus, cytoplasm, mitochondria) with data analysis including a significant bioinformatics component.  

Expertise includes RNA FISH and using fluorescent proteins to localise RNA and proteins, RNAi-mediated knockdown of gene expression, genetics at both individual gene and genome-wide levels, crosslinking of proteins to RNAs, frequently combined with deep sequencing to determine their sites of binding and action, quantitative analysis of RNA levels and splicing through high-throughput RT-PCR, RNA-protein binding assays (EMSA) and selenoprotein biogenesis.

Key Collaborations

Extensive interactions between the member groups of the RNA biology group include Watkins, Schneider and Brown; Chrzanowska-Lightowlers and Hesketh; Ford and Hesketh; Watkins, Lightowlers and Chrzanowska-Lightowlers; Elliott and Venables; Elliott and Tyson-Capper. A number of these have resulted in co-publication and/or joint grant funding. Round table meetings of PIs brings together expertise to focus ideas and support grant applications from members.

Outwith the group members collaborate across the Faculty (e.g. Hesketh and Shanley; Watkins and Perkins; Elliott and Robson; Lightowlers & Chrzanowska-Lightowlers and Taylor) and a few of many links further afield include:- Brown with Martin Ryan (St. Andrews; translational recoding), Schneider with David Tollervey (Edinburgh; non-coding RNA processing), Venables with Philippe Fort (Montpellier; alternative splicing), Werner with John Mattick (Sydney; non-coding RNA), Watkins with Markus Bohnsack (Goettingen; small nucleolar RNPs), Lightowlers & Chrzanowska-Lightowlers with Umesh Varshney (Bangalore, release factors), with Nathalie Bonnefoy (CNRS Paris, mitochondrial translation), with Raj Agrawal (Wadsworth Centre New York, cryo EM).

Developing Researchers

The RNA Biology group provides added value to the training of PhD student and postdoctoral researchers within member laboratories. This is through both the strong links between laboratories, and meetings at which both students and postdocs talk, and which also brings in external speakers, academic and from companies. Shared expertise also allows ready access to techniques and equipment in member laboratories.

Impact and Engagement

Recent Impact and Engagement activities include:

  • Schools: Brown is both a Stem Ambassador and part of the Newcastle University led ‘Leading Edge’ project
  • Commercialisation: Watkins is active in commercialisation of antibodies and enzymes produced in his laboratory
  • Clinical: Work in the Lightowlers and Chrzanowska-Lightowlers laboratories has clinical relevance in understanding defects in mitochondrial translation linked to specific mitochondrial DNA mutations, while Elliott’s work has impact in understanding male fertility
  • Media: Hesketh has undertaken video-conferencing with Chinese media on the importance of selenium for health

Staff List

Professor Caroline Austin
Professor of Molecular Biology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 8864

Dr Jeremy Brown
Senior Lecturer

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 7470

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 8028

Dr Ian Cowell
Staff Scientist

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 7677

Professor David Elliott
Professor of Genetics

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 241 8694

Professor Robert Lightowlers
Director, ICaMB and Professor of Molecular Neuroscience

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 8028

Dr Claudia Schneider
Royal Society University Research Fellow

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 7708

Dr Alison Tyson-Capper
Faculty Postgraduate Tutor (Associate Dean), Reader of Molecular Cell Biology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 7156

Dr Nick Watkins
Senior Lecturer

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 6991

Dr Andreas Werner
Reader in Molecular Biology

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 208 6990