School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Staff Profile

Dr Martin Edwards



Martin joined Newcastle University in 2001 as a PostDoctoral Scientist researching the pleotropic effects of transgenesis in Brassica rapa (BBSRC, GM114174 New approaches to studying tritrophic interactions involving insect-resistant transgenic plants). Further research posts allowed development of proteomic and transcriptomic analysis of biotic and abiotic stress in Triticum aestivum (wheat) to identify defence response genes (EU-FP5 QLK5-CT-2000-01065, Development of a systems approach for the management of late blight in EU organic potato production (Blight-MOP) and EU-FP7 222-645, Improving nutrient use efficiency in major European food, feed and biofuel crops to reduce negative environmental impacts of crop production (NUE-CROPS). Expertise in expression of proteins in microbial systems also contributed to the heterologous expression of abyssomicin C (BBSRC, BB/E017053/1, Identification cloning and heterologous expression of the abyssomicin C biosynthetic gene cluster). In 2014 Martin secured a Teaching Fellowship at Newcastle and continued to develop his teaching portfolio delivering molecular biology and biotechnology undergraduate and postgraduate module. This fellowship was converted to a full lectureship in 2016.

Martin is a Newcastle graduate with a BSc in Genetics and a MSc in Biomedical Sciences. During this time, he developed his passion for molecular biology that led him to read for a PhD in “Digestive Enzymes of Vine Weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus) as Potential Targets for Insect Control Strategies” at Durham University under the supervision of Professor John Gatehouse.

Martin is currently the Associate Director for Postgraduate Taught studies within the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle where he leads a research group investigating novel crop protection strategies through the i) development of novel biopesticide systems using dsRNA molecules to control major crop pest via the natural RNA interference (RNAi) response, ii) elucidation of WRKY transcription factor regulated defence gene networks and iii) identification of genes and gene products from plants, microbes and parasitoids that can be used as bioinspired plant protectant molecule. He is a Visiting Professor at Shanxi Academy of Agricultural Science.


Bio-Inspired Molecules for Crop Protection

To meet the challenges of feeding an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050, we need to act now by increasing the harvested yield of major crops. Key to increasing primary agricultural productivity is the need for improvements in crop protection against insect pests; this will require the development of strategies and molecules that are both efficacious and cost effective, but at the same time pose negligible risks to non-target organisms, and in particular ecosystem service providers. -endotoxins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have proven highly effective in the control of phytophagous insect when used as both an applied product and when expressed in transgenic plants. However, the scope of Bt products is limited by the narrow range of susceptible insects, leaving exploitable gaps in a complete control strategy. Alternative biotechnologically based solutions can make novel control strategies more readily available. Insect antagonists provide a novel source of protein-based insecticidal molecules that can be expressed in transgenic plants, or delivered as a biopesticide, for example those that target the CNS or disrupt the immune response of the pest insect. The high specificity of nucleic acid-based systems provides an attractive alternate approach to crop protection. Post-transcription reduction in gene expression can be triggered in crop pest by ingestion of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). Such RNA interference can lead to high levels of insect mortality. In addition, the specific and marker free editing of crops via CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) may also make a significant contribution to crop protection in the future. This presentation will provide an overview of the potential of these emerging technologies for effective control of crop insect pests and some of the challenges that they may pose if used within current agricultural practice.

Project Supervision

I supervise projects across all levels of programmes within the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences. Please contact me if you would like to discuss the projects listed below or if you want to develop a project in a similar area.

Postgraduate Research (PGR), potential PhD thesis areas;

  • Use of RNAi to control insect crop pests
  • Transcriptional regulation of the stress and defence response in cereals
  • Development of bio-inspired novel peptides for crop and post-harvest protection


  • Transcriptome analysis of stress and defence response in wheat (bioinformatic/lab)
  • Plant derived miRNA with the potential to regulate rhizosphere community structure (bioinformatic/lab)
  • Recombinant proteins with novel function (bioinformatic/lab)


  • Heterologous expression of high value recombinant proteins (lab)
  • Characterisation of metabolites from endophytic bacteria with potential for insect control (lab)
  • Transcription factor binding in cereals (lab/bioinformatic)
  • Systematic review of biotechnology in crop protection (literature)


Undergraduate teaching

BIO2030 Biotechnology: Principles and Practice (Module Leader)

To inform students about the technology that is currently used in the analysis and engineering of genes and to give students practical experience in this technology. Also to introduce the principles of allied technologies (proteomics, transcriptomics, and cell culture) and expose students to industry through a site visit and an introduction to intellectual property.

Lab practicals will provide students with intensive training in modern molecular biological methods centred around tools and techniques for DNA and protein isolation and characterisation. Students will be taken through a logically connected sequence of experiments on a biological system that will allow them to collect experimental data for presentation and analysis. This helps to equip students to carry out final year laboratory based research projects, as well as increasing their practical and data processing skills.

BIO3197/8/9 Biological Research Project

To undertake all stages of the research process, including planning, execution, analysis, interpretation and presentation. To develop communication skills by writing a research report and producing a poster for a lay audience. To write scientific reviews in the style of a peer-reviewed journal. To develop communication skills by making a technical presentation to an audience of peers and producing a poster for a lay audience. To produce resource materials targeted at a specified audience (e.g. general public, school or university students, or a professional audience) to promote understanding or awareness of an appropriate biological topic. To write a review of the underlying scientific literature. To develop communication skills by producing a poster for a lay audience.

Postgraduate teaching

BIO8046 Applied Bioinformatics (Module Leader)

Module introduces the basic concepts of bioinformatics to students. The module is devised such that students from a range of backgrounds can understand the theory and practice of applying computers and statistics to the field of molecular biology. The module is hands-on and will train as well as educate the students. The module is divided into lectures and workshops to ensure that lecture information is transferred to practical teaching. The students will become competent in the use of molecular biology databases and bioinformatics tools including those aimed at investigating: sequence similarity, sequence analysis, protein structure, phylogeny, and genome browsing. The series of workshops will present students with actual problem solving exercises ensuring that students are able to apply what they learn, particularly during their research projects.

BIO8043 Practical Techniques in Molecular Biology (Module Leader)

This provides formative training, assessment and feedback, equipping students to carry out their research projects in module NES8002, as well as increasing their practical and data processing skills. The workshop concentrates specifically on molecular biology techniques, and introduces students to the rigour of scientific experiments and data interpretation.

This workshop takes students away from their usual short-term practical class format for 5 days of intensive training in modern molecular biological methods centred around tools and techniques for DNA and protein isolation and characterisation. The intensive training is followed by an individual research exercise whereby the students will apply their new skills in the cloning and expression of genes in a microbial host. During the intensive training session members of academic staff and demonstrators will be available each day for general training, supervision and data interpretation, and to ensure safe working practices. Students will be given feedback on their practical skills and given specific pointers on how to improve. For the individual exercise, students will be expected to organise their own timekeeping, experiments, and records. Technicians and academic staff will be available to offer guidance, but students will be responsible for all of their own work.

NES8002 Research Dissertation Project (Module Leader)

The aim of this module is for the student to complete an independent research project in an area directly related to their degree. These projects will enable students to undertake an in depth research project where the student can show their research, analytical, interpretive, critical and design skills. Some projects may be group project where a team of students will work together on different aspects a single problem. In these cases, the students will work together to gather information, but each report must be unique and be focused on an individual’s own data.