Mark Roberts

is amazed at having won. Thank you for your questions and those votes!

Favourite Thing: I love looking down microscopes – the small world that is going on around me really fascinates me but my favourite experiments are when I get to use liquid nitrogen



Ilkely Grammar School (W Yorks) [Despite the name is a comprehensive school]


Biochemistry degree at Oxford University, pHd in Biochemistry

Work History:

Deparments of Biochemistry & Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford. and Lincoln College, Oxford


Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford

Current Job:

Researcher in Systems Biology

Me and my work

Essentially I work on the bacterial sense of smell!

I’m a Biochemistry researcher working at the University of Oxford working on signalling pathways within bacteria.

Just like us there is an optimal enviroment for bacteria to be in (which varies between species). These enviroments will be at the right temperature and have lots of the right food and little of things they don’t like – metals, bile, correct pH etc

I work on how bacteria sense chemicals (food and also bad things like metals) and how they adapt to cope with it, either by changing  themselves so they can cope or by moving to a more favourable environment. These proceresses are called Chemotaxis and Enviromental Adaptation.

To understand how the bacterial sense of smell works my experiments involve changing the DNA of the bacteria removing or adding bits. I then test the bacteria to  see if they can still sense the outside world – maybe my change makes it better or worse. From this you start to build up and idea of how  bacteria signal. The bacteria I work on is called R. sphearoides and is usually found in  the soil. It’s bright red as it can do photosynthesis. myimage1 Here is a picture of it.

I work as part of a large research group of about 20 people. We work on a  range of aspects of the signalling pathway and also on how bacteria  move. I work in the new biochemistry building at Oxford – if you want to  have a look around the building click here (you can possibly spot my blur in it too!). The people that I work with also work on the Bacterial Flagella Motor – this is a tiny motor which acts as a propella for a bacterial cell swimming  through it’s world [Mark has videos of these if you want to see….]. This works like a tiny electric motor and propella to move the bacterium  through it’s environment.

    The pathways I work on interact with this motor and cause it to change direction towards a more favourable  environment (ie it’s the navigation system). Eventually our work will lead to new antimicrobials / antibiotics.

I also teach undergraduate biochemistry both in the department ant in Lincoln College. I am also the academic responsible for running the UNIQ summer school in Biochemistry each year. This gives 30 6th formers a chance to experience what it is like to go to Oxford and study Biochemistry. It also runs for other subjects too – applications for this year have passed but if you are interested then consider applying next year.

My Typical Day

A typlical day for me involves coming into the lab in the morning. Days are split between days when I’m mainly manipulating DNA to make ‘mutant’ bacteria and days spent looking down the microscope looking and the effect these mutants have.

This allows me to try and work out how different proteins help the bacteria sense the world.

I also spend some of my days teaching undergraduate students, this involves a mixture of giving lectures and giving tutorials to groups of 3 students on aspects of biochemistry such as metabolism and bacterial signalling

What I'd do with the money

Go to the BSA Science Festival

 I’d like to use the money to go to the British Science Association Science Communication Conference next May to talk to ther scientists about communicating sicence and also attend the British Science Festival* with a stand about bactiera!

*=This is a huge public festival held every year – this year it’s in Birmingham

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Blond Energetic Sarcastic

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I quite like Scouting For Girls at the moment

What is the most fun thing you've done?

What like ever? That’s a tough one. Probably getting a pyrotechics qualiification

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

So I’m guessing to win i’m a scientist or 3 more wishes don’t count, yes? Erm that’s a tough one I guess one thing I’d love to do is walk to the south pole so that would be number 1. Number 2 a better microscope? and number 3 hmmm this is tough – to have a profile picture in colour?

What did you want to be after you left school?

I’ve always wanted to work in science as found it really interesting – but had no idea I’d end up doing this

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Alas not – was a bit too well behaved

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Presented my work to 500 people at an international conference

Tell us a joke.

A good pun is its own reword