United Kingdom

John Innes Centre

Project Leader

Molecular Microbiology
John Innes Centre
Norwich Research Park
Norwich NR4 7UH

+44 1603 450991



Background and expertise of the representative

Barrie Wilkinson is a Project Leader in the Dept. of Molecular Microbiology (92 publications, 25 patents, h-index: 34; ORCID ID: 0001-7646-7174). He obtained a Degree in Chemistry at the University of Leeds (UK) in 1990, and his PhD from The School of Chemistry at The University of Leeds (Streptomyces enzymes: isolation and synthetic applications) in 1994 under the supervision of Dr Richard B. Herbert. He undertook postdoctoral research at the University of Washington with Prof. Heinz G. Floss (1994-95) and at the University of Cambridge with Profs James Staunton FRS and Peter F. Leadlay FRS (1995-1997). In 1997 he joined the Bioprocess Research Group at GlaxoWellcome, and moved to Biotica Technology Ltd in 2001 as the Director of Chemistry. He was then Vice President of R&D at Biotica between 2009-2013. In 2013 he joined The John Innes Centre. Barrie is a co-founder (2013), Board and SAB Member of Isomerase Therapeutics Ltd. The Wilkinson group consists of 13 scientists comprising 3 PhDs (with 3 additional PhDs starting in September 2018) and 10 postdocs. These include a mixture of natural products & synthetic chemists, and micro- & molecular-biologists.

In his previous industrial role at Biotica he was responsible for the advancement of several candidate drugs into preclinical development including the first in class cyclophilin inhibitor BC556 for HBV infection which was purchased by the Swedish RD&D company NeuroVive in 2013. Research in his current group covers a range of topics based around natural products chemical biology (biosynthesis, biosynthetic engineering, natural products discovery and chemical ecology). In addition to the discovery and bioengineering of new anti-infective natural products, his group are also working on the identification of new molecular targets and modes of action for these molecules.

Barrie is a Director and co-PI of the BBSRC funded Natural Products Discovery and Bioengineering Network (NPRONET) and so has first-hand experience of how effective such initiatives can be.

Organisation profile

The JIC is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity. It is a leading centre of excellence in plant and microbial science. Its mission is to carry out fundamental and strategic research, to train scientists and to make its findings available to society. The Centre’s current science programme, with its unremitting emphasis on quality and impact, puts it in the vanguard in research into sustainable agriculture and bioscience for industry. Many of the scientists (currently c. 800) who work or who have trained at the JIC are international leaders in their field of research. The JIC provides high quality training to post-graduate and post-doctoral researchers. The Wilkinson lab has access to extensive molecular and microbiology facilities, including temperature-controlled shaker rooms for the scale up of fermentations for compound isolation, and a dedicated chemistry lab for natural products chemistry. The Mol Micro department has its own dedicated bioinformatics officer and access to the High-Performance Computing (HPC) cluster for computing and bioinformatics studies. The JIC has extensive metabolite analysis facilities especially for mass spectrometry including an Agilent single Quad LCMS, Agilent GCMS, Thermo LTQ-Orbitrap, DecaXPlus ion trap MS, Shimadzu IT-TOF MS, and multiple additional analytical UPLC instruments in addition to preparative HPLC and Biotage apparatus for compound isolation. The JIC recently took delivery of a new Bruker 600 MHz NMR instrument with cryoprobe. There is also extensive bioimaging capability, with multiple optical microscopes in addition to electron microscopy, in addition to a crystallography and biomolecular interactions platform.

A major thrust of research activity at JIC resides within the Institute Strategic Programme on ‘Molecules from Nature’ (https://www.jic.ac.uk/research/molecules-from-nature/) and involves extensive investigation of the discovery, biosynthesis and applications of microbial natural products, especially those with anti-infective activities. This ISP also includes the Truman and O’Connor groups, who provide critical mass in the natural products space, and there is a close working relationship with our neighbour the Earlham Institute which hosts the UK National Capability in Genomics, strategically funded by BBSRC, to promote the application of genomics and bioinformatics to advance bioscience research and innovation.

Contribution to the network

In addition to the bioengineering of several potentially valuable antibacterial natural products, the Wilkinson group are currently mining a library of actinomycete strain isolated from the external microbiome of Latin American leaf cutter ants to identify further new lead compounds. The outputs of this work will undoubtedly provide further new anti-infective compounds for investigation. Moreover, Barrie’s extensive industrial experience in the development of antiviral molecules incudes both strain and process work in order to access the quantities of materials, which, along with his expertise in the use of bioengineering for compound optimisation, should prove highly valuable to the other network members. His group are also studying the potential of macrophage infectivity potentiator (MIP) proteins as potential drug targets with a view to developing new virulence inhibitors for Gram-negative bacteria.