Joanna Sadler’s research stems from a desire to develop novel biotechnologies to drive a more sustainable future.

Following an undergraduate degree in Chemistry at the University of Bristol, which included a placement in the Process Chemistry department at AstraZeneca, Jo embarked on the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)/ University of Strathclyde Industrial PhD scheme. Based predominantly within the GSK Synthetic Biochemistry team, her PhD studies under the supervision of Luke Humphreys (GSK) and Glenn Burley’s (UoS) saw her work on enzymatic processes for carbon-carbon bond formation and gave her an initial insight into biotechnology. A desire to learn more about molecular biology, enzymology and synthetic biology triggered a move to Manchester to work with Douglas Kell in close collaboration with SYNBIOCHEM on methods for the directed evolution of biocatalysts. Through this work, Jo developed skills in working with large DNA libraries, next generation sequencing and ultra-high throughput screening assay development.

A move back to Scotland and into the group of Rebecca Goss gave Jo the opportunity to work on a novel pathway for the bio-based production of an industrially valuable small molecule in collaboration with Ingenza, Lucite and IBioIC.

Following a successful Discovery Fellowship application to the BBSRC to develop the use of waste plastic as a feedstock for the circular bioeconomy, Jo is on the path to independence. In this new role she will develop novel molecular up-cycling processes. Focussing on poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET), this two-phase process will start with the development of a robust and biocompatible PET degradation system. She will also scour landfill sites to find novel microbes capable of degrading plastics in ambient conditions. Once the enzyme cascades are optimised, Jo aims to produce industrially relevant small molecules from the plastic degradation products.

Away from the lab, Jo is passionate about public engagement and founded a scheme called Leaders in Science while a PhD student at GSK. This programme facilitates A-level and BTEC students to gain outreach skills that they can use to disseminate their passion for science to primary school students. Jo hopes to extend this programme in Scotland. Jo is also the industry liason officer for EUSynBioS, a network of ECRs in synthetic biology from across the EU.

Jo’s motivation throughout her work is sustainability and looking to the future she would like to start her own research group looking at plastic degradation and upcycling for other classes of plastic as well as PET. She also aims to work more with microbial consortia to determine how they can be harnessed to upcycle plastic waste. Jo hopes to engage with policy makers and plastics charities to increase the reach of her work and to work towards her dream of leading a plastic free lab.