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Durham University

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Dr John M. Sanderson

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Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 42107
Room number: CG112

(email at

Research Interests

Dr John M Sanderson has research interests in Biophysical Chemistry, with a particular emphasis on biological membranes. He is a committee member of the British Biophysical Society, and a member of the Biophysical Society (US) and the Royal Society of Chemistry (MRSC). Research expertise in the group includes amino acid and peptide synthesis, liposome technology and techniques for studying biological membranes, including surface tensiometry, calorimetry, x-ray scattering, optical microscopy and mass spectrometry. Current work is directed towards the study of protein-membrane interactions over all timescales and the preparation of asymmetric lipid membranes for biophysical studies of membrane activity (funded by an EPSRC programme grant).

Membrane-Active Peptides

Work encompasses the design of peptides that have the potential to form stable pores in lipid membranes, the characterisation of peptide interactions with membrane lipids and the physical organic chemistry of peptide reactions in membranes. Particular interests include the kinetics of peptide rearrangements following membrane binding1 and the chemical stability of peptide-lipid systems. Recent work has begun to establish the factors that control the innate reactivity of peptides towards acyl transfer from membrane lipids (intrinsic lipidation).2

Membrane Protein Chemistry

The behaviour of membrane proteins in membranes is being examined using a range of analytical approaches. Post-translational modifications to aquaporin-0 are being examined by mass spectrometry and reveal a diverse lipidation profile at each of the two lipidation sites of the protein (with Prof. R. A. Quinlan, Biological Sciences, Durham University). The membrane-binding properties of proteins from enveloped viruses are being characterised by a combination of microscopy, chemical biology and structral biology approaches (with Dr R. P. Yeo, Biological Sciences, Durham University). This has led to the structure determination for RSV M protein (in collaboration with Dr V. Money),3 and studies of membrane bindign using tensiometry, electron microscopy, circular dichroism and Brewster angle microscopy.4

Amino Acid and Drug-Lipid Interactions

We have used host-guest chemistry5 to test the hypothesis that aromatic amino acids have thermodynamically significant interactions with the headgroups of neutral lipids such as phosphatidylcholines. In the case of the Tryptophan and Tyrosine, we have demonstrated that both preferentially form 2:1 adducts with lipids. Using NMR and modelling approaches, we have been able to rationalise the adducts formed between Tryptophan and phosphocholine headgroups in terms of the intermolecular interactions involved. Current work is examining the chemistry exhibited by drug molecules after their adsorbtion to lipid membranes.

Spectroscopy and Microscopy of Lipid Membranes

Figure 3 An image of a pair of optically trapped liposomes, one of which is labeled with a fluorescent marker

Current work centres around the synthesis and exploitation of labelled lipids and sterols.6 In previous work we demonstrated the generation of Raman spectra from individual trapped liposomes and the use of Scanning Electrochemical Microscopy (SECM) to observe redox switching of a modified gramicidin channel (with Dr R. Kataky, Durham University). Brewster angle microscopy has been used to characterise the association of peripheral membrane proteins with lipid monolayers (with Dr A Beeby, Durham University).4


  1. Catherine J. Pridmore, Alison Rodger and John M. Sanderson, Biochim. Biophys. Acta, 2016, 1858, 892–903.
  2. Robert H. Dods, Burkhard Bechinger, Jackie A. Mosely and John M. Sanderson, J. Mol. Biol., 2013, 425, 4379–4387.
  3. Victoria A. Money, Helen K. McPhee, Jackie A. Mosely, John M. Sanderson and Robert P. Yeo, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., 2009, 106, 4441–4446.
  4. Helen K. McPhee, Jennifer L. Carlisle, Andrew Beeby, Victoria A. Money, Scott M. D. Watson, Robert P. Yeo and John M. Sanderson, Langmuir, 2011, 27, 304–311.
  5. Georg Blaser, John M. Sanderson and Mark R. Wilson, Org. Biomol. Chem., 2009, 7, 5119–5128.
  6. Celia de la Calle Arregui, Jonathan A. Purdie, Catherine A. Haslam, Robert V. Law and John M. Sanderson, Chem. Phys. Lipids, 2016, 195, 58–62

Research Groups

Department of Chemistry

Research Interests

  • Biophysics
  • Biological Membranes
  • Lipids
  • Biophysical Chemistry

Indicators of Esteem

  • Commitee member of the British Biophysical Society:

Selected Publications

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Selected Grants

  • 2012: R030379: Sculpting Dynamic Amphiphilic Structures, EPSRC, £4821721, 2012-06-01 – 2017-05-31