Dr Louise Horsfall

MChem, DEA, PhD

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Job title: Senior Lecturer
Division: School of Biological Sciences
Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Tags: Fellowship: Early Career, University of Edinburgh
Related theme: Engineering Manufacturing the future


Dr Louise Horsfall is a Senior Lecturer and synthetic biologist at the University of Edinburgh. She began her career as a chemist at the University of Oxford before moving to Liège (Belgium) to study biochemistry gaining her PhD in 2007. This was followed by postdoctoral research at the Universities of Leeds and Glasgow.

My Fellowship

Metals have a finite supply, thus metal scarcity and supply security have become worldwide issues. We have to ensure that we do not drain important resources by prioritizing the desires of the present over the needs of the future. To solve such a global challenge we need to move to a circular, more sustainable economy where we use the resources we have more wisely. One of the founding principles of a circular economy is that waste is an unused feedstock; that organic and inorganic components can be engineered to fit within a materials cycle, by the design, engineering and re-purposing of waste streams.

In this fellowship Louise will design and engineer bacteria to repurpose our waste streams for us. Louise is using the new tools and techniques provided by advances in biology to engineer a microbe with the ability to up-cycle critical metal ions from waste streams into high value nanoparticles. Certain bacteria have the ability to reduce metal cations and form precipitates of zero-valence, pure metals, as part of their survival mechanism to defend against toxic levels of metal cations. By adopting the modular approach used in Synthetic Biology alongside iterative design, build and test cycles Louise will enhance, manipulate and standardise the bio-manufacture of these nanosized precipitates as high value products.

Career benefits of a Fellowship

With the aid of this fellowship, Louise will have the time, the expertise, the funding and the collaborators (in both synthetic biology and traditional engineering) to play a major role in establishing the use of bacteria to reclaim critical metals.  Louise believes that biotechnology has the potential to transform manufacturing by using waste as a feedstock, rather than it being an end product.  Current research projects include the use of bacterial metal reduction and nanoparticle formation pathways to enable the bioremediation of waste, water and land; employing techniques and tools provided by synthetic biology to increase the value of the metals recovered.

Collaborative research with industry is focused on improving metallo-enzymes and their production for enhanced lignin degradation.  Replacement of the current pre-treatments with catalytic degradation would dramatically increase the energy efficiency of bioenergy production and provide new routes to the manufacture of aromatic feedstock chemicals.