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Bruce Steel

Bruce SteelBruce Steel smiles at the camera






I am a BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science graduate and, as of last year, an MSc Industrial Biotechnology graduate. My undergraduate dissertation was focused on the detection of antibiotic resistant bacteria in poultry meat through the use of disc diffusion assays and PCR analysis using custom designed primers targeting genes encoding resistance to clinically significant antibiotics. My MSc project was carried out during an industrial placement with Recyclatech Group Ltd and was focused on the extraction of complex biosurfactants from Recyclatech’s patented strain of bacteria and downstream process optimisation. After graduating from my MSc, I secured a full-time position with Recyclatech as a research assistant, during which I was part of a small team tasked with scaling up their industrial process from lab-scale to industrial-scale.

Following on from my research in industrial biotechnology, I have decided to do a PhD in a topic area related to this. My PhD research topic is focused on microbial lignin degradation in the environment, which has many implications in industrial biotechnology, primarily chemical synthesis and biofuel production.



Current Research

‘Microbial lignocellulose degradation in the environment’


Almost 20% of the total mass of the Earth comprises lignocellulosic biomass also known as dry plant matter, a mixture of organic molecules, containing mostly lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose. However, lignin is an extremely resistant polymer to degradation due to its complex structure and strong chemical bonds and makes the utilization of lignocellulosic biomass difficult. Microbial lignin breakdown through enzymes such as peroxidases or laccases creates a great potential of utilizing this abundant biomass for sourcing sugar for generation of useful biochemicals and biofuels. However, most work has been carried out on the role of fungi in lignin degradation with little work on their bacterial counterparts.

The central aim of this PhD project is to study and compare the activity of microbial lignin degradation in a variety of environments (including permafrost and forest soils, coastal and estuarine sediment), combining methods such as nucleic acid stable isotope probing (DNA/RNA-SIP) and next generation sequencing (meta-omics and bioinformatics) to link microbial physiology to ecosystem functioning. This will be supported by the use and investigation of pure cultures and enzyme assays. In particular, we want to determine the key microorganisms responsible in the various environments and their pathways for lignin degradation.


Supervisory Team

Dr Jennifer Pratcher - University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences

Dr Jonathan Todd - School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Dr Dennis Goevert - Recyclatech Group Ltd. (CASE)