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Dr Vitor Bernardes Pinheiro
Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology
Darwin Building - Gower Street
  • Associate Professor
  • Structural & Molecular Biology
  • Div of Biosciences
  • Faculty of Life Sciences

I started my academic career at the University of Cambridge, first as an undergraduate specialising in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Natural Sciences Tripos: Biochemistry) and later as a PhD student. My doctoral work focused on the molecular evolution of Yersinia pestis and on the role of insecticidal toxins present in the ancestral Y. pseudotuberculosis.

After my PhD, I joined the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology for my post-doctoral training, working on the directed evolution of DNA polymerases and synthetic nucleic acids. I spent 7 years years at the LMB, first as a Career Development Fellow and later promoted to Investigator Scientist.

I moved to UCL in July 2013, taking the ISMB Lectureship in Synthetic Biology and establishing my independent research group.

Research Groups
Research Themes
Research Summary

Storage, replication and translation of genetic information are crucial processes in biology and succinctly summarised by the Central Dogma and the genetic code.

Using directed evolution as a tool for Synthetic Biology, our goal is to re-engineer these processes – changing the topology of the Central Dogma with synthetic nucleic acids and developing alternative genetic codes with non-canonical chemical functionalities.

By reconstructing biological function from individual parts, we hope to gain insights at all levels of information handling processes in biology: at the level of individual components, the biological systems being engineered and the more general principles in biology. Our Synthetic Biology approach is complementary to the traditional detailed and systematic characterisation of the natural systems and will allow us to investigate key biological questions:

  • What are the boundary conditions for storage of chemical information?
  • How robust are biological informational processes?
  • Are there inherent functional constraints that limited biology to its use of natural nucleic acids and the canonical amino acid set?

In addition, establishing alternative informational systems will allow us to develop safer genetically engineered microorganisms, that cannot exchange genetic information with natural organisms – either because genetic information is stored in synthetic nucleic acids not accessible to nature (genetic orthogonality) or because the information is trapped within an incompatible genetic code (semantic orthogonality) or both.

Academic Background
2016   Postgraduate Certificate in Education Birkbeck College
2006   Doctor of Philosophy University of Cambridge
    ATQ07 - Holder of a PGCE in higher education, secondary edu, further edu, life long lear  
    ATQ03 - Recognised by the HEA as a Fellow  
2001   Bachelor of Arts Master of Science University of Cambridge
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