Current Projects

Our current areas of research include the biogeochemical cycling of methanol in seawater, isoprene degradation in the terrestrial and marine environment and the microbiology of Movile cave.

Our projects are funded by NERC, BBSRC, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, British Council and the Royal Society.

The Lab

We are part of the School of Environment Sciences, with strong collaboration links to the School of Biological Sciences. We utilise an array of molecular ecology techniques such as functional gene probing and DNA stable isotope probing.

Overview of Research

Colin Murrell

The central theme of research work carried out in the lab is the microbiology of methanotrophic and methylotrophic bacteria. These are bacteria which can grow on one-carbon (C1) compounds such as methane, methanol, methylated amines, methanesulfonate, dimethylsulfide and methyl chloride. Activities range from the enrichment, isolation and characterisation of novel organisms from a wide variety of environments including soils, seawater, hot springs, soda lakes and acidic peat bogs, through to their characterisation at the physiological, biochemical and molecular level. Key enzymes, particularly oxygenases and methyltransferases are being purified, the genes encoding these enzymes cloned and the regulation of expression of metabolic pathways is also being examined. The ecology of organisms is being studied using molecular biology and stable isotope and radioisotope techniques in order to establish the role of these bacteria in biogeochemical cycling of atmospheric trace gases and C1 compounds.


Selected publications from the past few years

(For a full list- see Publications)

Vita, N., Platsaki, S., Baslé, A., Allen, S.J., Paterson, N.G., Crombie, A.T., Murrell, J.C., Waldron, K.J., Dennison, C (2015). A four-helix bundle stores copper for methane oxidation. Nature, 525, 140–143. doi:10.1038/nature14854

Lidbury, I.D.E.A., Murrell, J.C. and Chen, Y. (2015) TMA and TMAO are supplementary energy sources for a marine heterotroph: Implications for carbon and nitrogen cycling. The ISME Journal 9, 760-769. doi:10.1038/ismej.2014.149

Crombie, A.T., El Khawand, M., Rhodius, V.A., Fengler, K.A., Miller, M.C., Whited, G.M., McGenity, T.J. and J. Colin Murrell, J.C. (2015) Regulation of plasmid-encoded isoprene metabolism in Rhodococcus, a representative of an important link in the global isoprene cycle. Environmental Microbiology, 17, 3314-3329. DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.12793

Sigdel, S., Hui, G., Smith, T.J., Murrell, J.C. and Lee, Y-K. (2015) Molecular dynamics simulation to rationalize regioselective hydroxylation of aromatic substrates by soluble methane monooxygenase. Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters 25, 1611-1615. doi:10.1016/j.bmcl.2015.01.069

McNamara, N.P., Gregg R., Oakley S., Stott A.S., Rahman, Md. T., Murrell J.C., Wardle, D., Bardgett R.D., Ostle N. et al (2015) Soil methane sink capacity response to a long-term wildfire chronosequence in northern Sweden. PLOS One 10 (9) e0129892

Nichol, T., Murrell, J.C., Smith, T.J. (2015) Controlling the activities of the diiron centre in bacterial monooxygenases: lessons from mutagenesis and biodiversity. European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry 21, 3419-3431. DOI: 10.1002/ejic.201500043

Grob, C, Taubert, M, Howat, AM, Burns, OJ, Dixon, JL, Richnow, H, Jehmlich, N, von Bergen, M, Chen, Y, and Murrell, JC (2015) Combining metagenomics with metaproteomics and stable isotope probing reveals metabolic pathways used by a naturally occurring marine methylotroph. Environmental Microbiology 17, 4007-4018. DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.12935

Taubert, M, Grob, C., Howat, AM, Burns, OJ, Dixon, JL, Chen, Y, and Murrell, JC (2015) XoxF encoding an alternative methanol dehydrogenase is widespread in coastal marine environments. Environmental Microbiology 17, 3937-3948. DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.12896

Lidbury, I., Kimberley, G., Scanlan, D.J., Murrell, J.C. and Chen, Y. (2015) Comparative genomics and mutagenesis analyses of choline metabolism in the marine Roseobacter clade bacteria. Environmental Microbiology Reports (in press) doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.12943

Crombie, A. T. and Murrell, J.C. (2014) Trace gas metabolic versatility of the facultative methanotroph Methylocella silvestris. Nature, 510, 148-151. DOI: 10.1038/nature13192

Lidbury, I., Murrell, J.C. and Chen, Y. (2014) Trimethylamine N-oxide metabolism by abundant marine heterotrophic bacteria Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 111, 2710-2715. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1317834111

Kumaresan, D., Wischer, D., Stephenson, J., Hillebrand-Voiculescu, A., and Murrell, J.C. (2014) Microbiology of Movile Cave- a chemolithoautotrophic ecosystem. Geomicrobiology 31, 186–193. DOI: 10.1080/01490451.2013.839764

Wischer, D., Kumaresan, D., Johnston, A., El Khawand, M., Stephenson, J., Hillebrand-Voiculescu, A.M., Chen, Y. and Murrell, J.C. (2014) Identification and characterization of active methylamine degrading bacteria in Movile Cave. The ISME Journal, 9, 195-206. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2014.102

Dixon, J.L., Sargeant, S., Nightingale, P.D. and Murrell, J.C. (2013) Gradients in microbial methanol uptake: productive coastal upwelling waters to oligotrophic gyres in the Atlantic Ocean. The ISME Journal, 7, 568-580. DOI: 10.1038/ismej.2012.130

Antony, C.P., Kumaresan, D., Hunger, S., Drake, H.L., Murrell, J.C. and Shouche, Y.S. (2013) Microbiology of Lonar Lake and other soda lakes. ISME Journal, 7, 469-476.

Nazaries, L., Murrell, J.C., Millard, P., Baggs, L. and Singh, B.K. (2013) Methane, microbes and models: Fundamental understanding of the soil methane cycle for future predictions. Environmental Microbiology, 15, 2395-2417. DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.12149

Nazaries, L., Murrell, J.C., Millard, P., Baggs, L. and Singh, B.K. (2013) Evidence of microbial regulation of biogeochemical cycles from a study on methane flux and land-use change. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 79, 4031-4040. (ASM Highlighted paper) DOI: 10.1128/AEM.00095-13

Semrau, J.D., Jagadevan, S., DiSpirito, A.A., Khalifa, A., Scanlan, J, Bergman, B.H., Freemeier, B.C., Barai, B.S., Bandow, N.L., Vorobev, A., Haft, D.D. Vuilleumier, S. and Murrell, J.C. (2013) Methanobactin and MmoD work in concert to act as the “copper-switch” in methanotrophs. Environmental Microbiology 15, 3077-3086. DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.12150


  • NERC
  • Gordon & Betty Moore
  • British Council
  • The Royal Society
  • DuPont
  • SfAM
  • The Society for General Microbiology (SGM)