Prof Benjamin G. Davis

Prof Benjamin G. Davis

Talk Title:

Sugars and Proteins: Towards a Synthetic Biology


Professor of Chemistry,
Fellow and Tutor in Organic Chemistry, Pembroke College

Ben Davis got his B.A. (1993) and D.Phil. (1996) from the University of Oxford. During this time he learnt the beauty of carbohydrate chemistry under the supervision of Professor George Fleet. He then spent 2 years as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Professor Bryan Jones at the University of Toronto, exploring protein chemistry and biocatalysis.

In 1998 he returned to the U.K. to take up a lectureship at the University of Durham. In the autumn of 2001 he moved to the Dyson Perrins Laboratory, University of Oxford and received a fellowship at Pembroke College, Oxford. He was promoted to Full Professor in 2005.

His group’s research centres on the chemical understanding and exploitation of biomolecular function (Synthetic Biology, Chemical Biology and Chemical Medicine), with an emphasis on carbohydrates and proteins. In particular, the group’s interests encompass synthesis and methodology; target biomolecule synthesis; inhibitor/probe/substrate design; biocatalysis; enzyme & biomolecule mechanism; biosynthetic pathway determination; protein engineering; drug delivery; molecular biology; structural biology; cell biology; glycobiology; molecular imaging and in vivo biology.

This work has received the 1999 RSC Meldola medal and prize, the 2001 RSC Carbohydrate Award sponsored by Syngenta, an AstraZeneca Strategic Research Award, a DTI Smart Award, a Mitzutani Foundation for Glycoscience Award, the 2002 Philip Leverhulme Prize, the 2005 Royal Society Mullard Prize and Medal, the RSC 2005 Corday-Morgan Medal, the 2006 International Association for Protein Structure Analysis and Proteomics Young Investigator Award, the 2008 Wain Medal for Chemical Biology, the 2008 American Chemical Society’s Horace S. Isbell Award, the 2009 Elsevier Carbohydrate Research Award for Creativity in Carbohydrate Chemistry, the 2009 RSC Norman Heatley Award, a 2009 Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award, the 2010 the Society of Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Japan, (SSOCJ) Lectureship Award and in 2012 both the RSC Bio-organic Chemistry Award and the first UK recipient of the Tetrahedron Young Investigator Award for Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry.

It has also been the subject of named lectureships: the 2006 Doctorate Lectureship of the University of Santiago de Compostela, the 2008 Cornforth Lectureship of the University of Sydney, the 2009 Novartis Chemistry Lectureship, the 2009 Carico Lectureship of the University of Milan, the 2009 Jones Lectureship of the University of Toronto, a 2010 Invited Visiting Professorship at the Sorbonne, Paris (UPMC-ParisVI), the 2011 Hirst Lectureship of the University of St Andrews, the 2011 Boehringer Ingelheim Lectureship of the University of Alberta, the 2012 Ginsberg Lectureship of the Technion, the 2012 Bristol-Myers-Squibb Lectureship in Organic Chemistry of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the 2013 Liversidge Lectureship of the University of Sydney, the 2013 Peter Gallagher Lectureship of the Griffiths Glycomics Institute and the 2014 Bender Lectures of Northwestern University.
He sits (has sat) on the Editorial / Editorial Advisory Boards of Carbohydrate Research (2005-2012), Chemical Biology and Drug Design (2006-), Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry (2006-2011), the Biochemical Journal (Advisory Board 2002-2005, Editorial Board 2009-), Chemical Science (2010-2012) and ChemBioChem (2011-).

He was the Editor-in-Chief of Bioorganic Chemistry (2011-2013) and an Associate Editor of Chemical Science (2012-14). He is the Editor-in-Chief of Current Opinion in Chemical Biology (2011-) and a Senior Editor for ACS Central Science (2014-).

In 2005 he was elected the UK representative and Secretary (2005-2013) of the European Carbohydrate Organisation and from 2011-2014 the President of the RSC Chemical Biology Division.
Ben Davis was co-founder of Glycoform, a biotechnology company that from 2002-2011 investigated the therapeutic potential of synthetic glycoproteins and of Oxford Contrast a company investigating the use of molecular imaging for brain disease. In 2003 he was named among the top young innovators in the world by Technology Review, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s magazine of innovation in the TR35 awards and was a finalist in the BBSRC Innovator of the Year competition in 2010.
He was elected to the Royal Society in 2015.


Sugars & proteins: towards a synthetic biology
Benjamin G. Davis
Department of Chemistry,
University of Oxford
Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TA, UK
Our work studies the interplay of biomolecules – proteins, sugars and their modifications.
Synthetic Biology’s development at the start of this century may be compared with Synthetic
Organic Chemistry’s expansion at the start of the last; after decades of isolation, identification,
analysis and functional confirmation the future logical and free-ranging redesign of biomacromolecules
offers tantalizing opportunities. This lecture will cover emerging areas in our group in
chemical manipulation of biomoleclules with an emphasis on new bond-forming and -breaking
processes compatible with biology:
(i) New methods: Despite 90-years-worth of non-specific, chemical modification of proteins, precise
methods in protein chemistry remain rare. The development of efficient, complete, chemoand
regio-selective methods, applied in benign aqueous systems to redesign and reprogramme
the structure and function of biomolecule both in vitro and in vivo will be presented.
(ii) ‘Synthetic Biologics’ and their applications: biomimicry; functional recapitulation; effector
[drug/agrochemical/gene/radio-dose] delivery; selective protein degradation; inhibitors of pathogen
interactions; non-invasive presymptopmatic disease diagnosis; probes and modulators of in
vivo function.