Professor Neil Ranson

Understanding the structure of molecules is fundamental to our lives. It is helping us to advance knowledge about the causes of cancer, understanding diseases like Alzheimer’s and developing new medicines such as antibiotics.

Microscopy is key to this understanding and at Leeds we have two of the most powerful cryo-electron microscopes in the world. Cryo-electron microscopy has been around for 30 years and has been incredibly useful, but until recently the technology limited the biological questions which we could ask. Without the required level of detail, we sometimes struggled to fully understand the structure of biological molecules and how they function, especially when they are in their normal workplace, inside our cells. 

However, the Titan Krios microscopes we now have in Leeds are absolutely state of the art and mean that these limitations have been shattered. Researchers can now image biological molecules with an incredible resolution. Crucially, we’ll also be able to see how these molecules interact with each other.

I genuinely think this is the most exciting area in biology at the moment – one of the most exciting techniques, and the area where the most progress is being made most quickly. Anyone who’s interested in structural biology should come to Leeds.  

Experience of working with the data we can generate gives Leeds’ students a real advantage when they graduate and embark on their own research careers. This is a really hot area in drug discovery, and all of the major pharmaceutical companies are now doing cryo-EM. 

Teaching at Leeds is fundamentally research-led. As a professor here it’s my job to feed the research developments into our teaching. Students here are getting the latest research. We’re discovering new biology every day. They get to hear about that and potentially do projects connected to it.

More information

The Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology is an interdisciplinary research centre of the University of Leeds. It brings together over fifty academic staff from the faculties of biological sciences, physical sciences (chemistry and physics) and medicine, with the common goal of understanding life at an atomic level.