UCL Division of Biosciences


Purton Lab Algal Biology and Biotechnology


Professor Saul Purton

Professor Saul Purton

Professor in Algal Biotechnology

Post-doctoral Research Scientist (University of Geneva, Switzerland) 1990-1991

EMBO Research Fellow (University of Geneva, Switzerland) 1988-1990

PhD in Plant Molecular Biology (University of Cambridge) 1984-1988

BSc in Biochemistry (University of Bristol) 1981-1984

Email: s.purton@ucl.ac.uk

A central focus throughout my research career has been the chloroplast organelle of plants and algae.  I have explored questions regarding its evolution; its biology (mainly photosynthesis, but more recently other metabolic processes such as fatty acid and isoprenoid biosynthesis), its molecular biology (the evolutionary forces that have shaped the chloroplast genome, and how the nucleus coordinates the expression of chloroplast genes), and its genetic engineering and biotechnological exploitation.  Almost all of this research has involved the green alga Chlamydomonas as a model system.  Indeed, my research is underpinned by the many genetic engineering tools we have developed (and are continuing to develop) for Chlamydomonas (see genetic engineering tools).

Our current research is now moving into more applied areas and involving additional algal species. Topics include:

  • The genetic engineering of algae for biofuel production and the development of advanced synthetic biology tools for creating 'designer algae'.
  • The production of pharmaceutical proteins using the algal chloroplast as a low-cost, benign platform.
  • The role of nuclear-encoded factors in the expression of individual organellar genes within the chloroplast or mitochondrion.
  • The development of genetic engineering methods for various algal and cyanobacterial species.

Please see Algae-UK website for more details of these projects.


My teaching encompasses microbiology, molecular biology, plant biology and biotechnology, and I contribute to the following UCL courses:

  • Introduction to Microbiology (course organiser)
  • Fundamentals of Molecular Biology
  • Genetic Systems
  • Cellular Regulation and Biotechnology
  • MRes in Synthetic Biology

In addition, I supervise both research and literature-based projects for BSc and MRes students.

I am also a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and an External Examiner for the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London.

Other activities

  • Founding member of the Algal Biotechnology Consortium
  • Member of the editorial boards of Protist and Eukaryotic Cell
  • Member of the Society for General Microbiology Eukaryotic Division
  • Member of the BBSRC's Pool of Experts
  • Core member of the BBSRC's Research Committee B
  • Scientific Advisory Board member of Algenuity
  • Scientific Advisory Board member for the European Project SPLASH (Sustainable Polymers from Algal Sugars and hydrocarbons)
  • Associate editor for the journal Perspectives in Phycology
  • Director of PHYCONET, a 5-year BBSRC NIBB
  • Co-ordinator of the 4-year, £2.4M BBSRC strategic LoLa award, Algal Biotechnology Platform for Designer Lipids (collaborators are Johnathan Napier from Rothamsted Research, Oliver Ebenhöh from Aberdeen University and Alison Smith and Chris Abell from Cambridge University)