The central theme of research work carried out in the lab is the microbiology of atmospheric trace gases and in particular methanotrophic and methylotrophic bacteria and also bacteria that grow on isoprene. Methylotrophs 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.
Colin Murrell is an environmental molecular microbiologist with wide ranging interests centering around the microbiology of atmospheric trace gases such as methane, dimethyl sulfide, methyl halides and isoprene and metabolism of one carbon compounds (methanol, methylamines, methanesulfonate) in the terrestrial, aquatic and marine environment. Other areas of research include microbiology of the sea-surface microlayer, caves, alkaline soda lakes, saltmarshes, cold water corals and cultural heritage microbiology, microbial genomics, metagenomics, bioremediation, biocatalysis and industrial biotechnology. His research over the past 30 years has resulted in around 270 publications and six edited books. Colin’s work is multidisciplinary and ranges from the isolation of microbes that are involved in major biogeochemical cycles (C, N, S, metals) through to their characterization at the physiological, biochemical, molecular and ecological levels. He has also pioneered the use of molecular ecology techniques such as functional gene probing and DNA stable isotope probing to determine “which microbes are doing what in the environment”, particularly in the context of global biogeochemical carbon, nitrogen and sulfur cycles.
Colin Murrell interacts with soil scientists, oceanographers, limnologists, speleologists, marine chemists, modellers and industry through his research and in his role as Director of the Earth and Life Systems Alliance (ELSA), he has initiated projects with plant and climate scientists across the Norwich Research Park. Murrell also has experience of working with industry, outreach projects and reviewing for many research councils and is currently a member of the NERC Peer Review College. He is an editorial board member of Environmental Microbiology, The ISME Journal and FEMS Microbiology Letters and a member of the International Society for Microbial Ecology, the Society for General Microbiology and the Society for Applied Microbiology. In 2014, Colin was elected Member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and also Vice President of the International Society for Microbial Ecology. In 2015, Colin was awarded a Chinese Academy of Science President’s International Fellowship for Distinguished Scientists. He also recently had the honour of a methane oxidising bacterium being named after him: Methyloparacoccus murrellii by Hoefman et al 2014, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology (2014), 64, 2100–2107: “named in honour of the British microbiologist Colin Murrell for his contributions to the knowledge on methanotrophs”.
Nearly 50 PhD students have graduated from Colin’s laboratory and he has also supervised well over 100 postdoctoral fellows, research technicians and visiting researchers from more than 25 countries and considers postgraduate training as one of his most important roles in research. He has also worked closely with a number of PhD CASE partners including PML, CEH and biotechnology/oil companies and has been examiner for around 80 PhD students in the UK and worldwide.
Other activities in the last 12 years include: Vice Chair and Chair for Gordon Conference on the Molecular Basis of Microbial One Carbon Metabolism, 2000/2002; Convener/Organiser of NERC/SERAD –funded Workshop entitled Microbial Genomics and Molecular Ecology: Techniques and Applications. Warwick, 2000; Member of British Embassy Mission on Marine Bioresources, Tokyo, Nagoya and Kyoto, Japan, 2008; DNA-Stable Isotope Probing: a practical course. University of Sydney, October 2008; Chair: UK Molecular Microbial Ecology Group Annual Meeting, UEA, Norwich, December 2012; Vice for the Gordon Research Conference on Applied and Environmental Microbiology (2013).
School of Environmental Sciences
University of East Anglia
Norwich Research Park
Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK