New Synbion Website
A new website for the Synbion Network is here. Synbion is a network of synthetic biologists interested in engineering novel metabolic pathways and making nanoscale biological devices.

Synthetic biology MRes
Details here.

Dr Lewis Dartnell



My first degree was in Biological Sciences, at Queen's College, Oxford, before I moved to UCL. I joined the wonderfully diverse department called CoMPLEX (Centre for Mathematics & Physics in the Life Sciences and Experimental Biology) for their MRes-PhD programme, and learned new skills in physics, mathematical analysis and computer modelling. After MRes projects in biochemical engineering, gene interaction networks, and optical illusions affecting motion perception, I organised a PhD research project in astrobiology and the possibility of life on Mars. After completion of my doctorate I was awarded a research Fellowship by the UCL Institute of Origins to continue my astrobiology work.

Research interests

My research interests lie in astrobiology, and in particular the effects of cosmic radiation on the survival of martian microorganisms and the persistence time of remnant biosignatures indicating their prior existence (see full description here). This involves a combination of several different techniques, including microbiology lab work culturing extremophilic bacteria, work on instruments proposed for martian probes to detect signs of life, ionising radiation exposure experiments, and developing computer models of the cosmic rays penetrating through the martian atmosphere and subsurface.

Alongside my research, I am very active in science outreach and present frequently at science festivals and schools. I write regularly for newspapers and magazines including the Daily Telegraph, NewScientist, BBC Focus, Sky at Night, and have also published a popular science book on astrobiology; 'Life in the Universe: A Beginner's Guide'.

Further details on my research, outreach and science writing is available on my website.


Dartnell L.R., Hunter S.J., Lovell K.V., Coates A.J., Ward J.M., (IN PRESS) Low-temperature ionising radiation resistance of Deinococcus radiodurans and Antarctic Dry Valley bacteria, Astrobiology

Dartnell L.R., Fallaize D.R., Whiting S.J., Ward J.M., (2010) Desiccation resistance of Antarctic Dry Valley bacteria isolated from contrasting locations, Antarctic Science, 22(2), 171-172

Dartnell L.R., Burchell M.J., (2009) Survey on Astrobiology Research and Teaching Activities within the United Kingdom, Astrobiology vol. 9 (8), 717-730

Le Postollec A., Incerti S., Dobrijevic M., Desorgher L., Santin G., Moretto P., Vandenabeele-Trambouze O., Coussot G., Dartnell L., Nieminen P., (2009) Monte-Carlo simulation of the radiation environment encountered by a biochip during a space mission to Mars, Astrobiology, 9(3), 311-23

Dartnell et al (2007), Martian sub-surface ionising radiation: biosignatures and geology, Biogeosciences, 4(4), p.545-558

Dartnell et al (2007), Modelling the surface and subsurface Martian radiation environment: Implications for astrobiology, Geophysical Research Letters, 34, L02207

P. Morthekai, M. Jain, L. R. Dartnell et al (2007), Modelling of the dose-rate variations with depth in the Martian regolith using GEANT4, Nuclear Instruments Methods A

Dartnell et al (2006), Modelling Planetary Radiation Environments: Astrobiological Perspectives, Proceedings of the European Modelling Symposium, ISBN 0-9516509-3-9/978-0-9516509-3-6

Dartnell et al (2005), Robustness of the p53 network and biological hackers, FEBS Letters, 579, p3037-3042