Benjamin Davis - Biography#

Ben Davis got his B.A. (Chemistry w/ Chemical Pharmacology (suppl), 1993) and D.Phil. (1996) from the University of Oxford. During this time he learnt the beauty of carbohydrate chemistry under the supervision of Professor George Fleet. He then spent 2 years as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Professor Bryan Jones at the University of Toronto, exploring protein chemistry and biocatalysis.

In 1998 he returned to the U.K. to take up a lectureship at the University of Durham. In the autumn of 2001 he moved to the Dyson Perrins Laboratory, University of Oxford, which became part of the Department of Chemistry, and he received a fellowship at Pembroke College, Oxford. He was promoted to Full Professor in 2005.

The contributions of the Davis group centre on the chemistry, biology and biotechnology of carbohydrates and proteins. He has adopted a multifaceted approach that applies chemistry directly to biology and medicine. By employing and inventing a coordinated spectrum of techniques [from organic synthesis, through structural and molecular biology, to cellular and animal studies]] from a chemical standpoint, he has developed new methods for building biomolecules (now the field of Synthetic Biology) and used them to address questions in biology (now the field of Chemical Biology). The application of the resulting knowledge has allowed the creation of potential therapeutically- and biotechnologically-applicable systems with worldwide uptake.

Current (often exclusively biological) methods for the manipulation of the pivotal ‘workhorse’ molecules of biology, such as carbohydrates and proteins, rely largely upon indirect manipulation of the DNA that encodes for relevant direct and indirect gene products. Frustrated as a graduate student by the limited molecular tools available to unpick the molecular mechanism of Biology, Davis has since been working to circumvent this, the central ‘dogma’ of molecular biology, to develop generally applicable, precise chemical manipulation and interrogation of both structure and hence function at the level of the biomolecule (protein and carbohydrate). As a result, Davis has developed new synthetic chemical methods in Biology (‘Synthetic Biology’) that have driven molecular interrogation of Biology (‘Chemical Biology’) and Medicine.

In addition to his scientific achievements, Professor Davis has played active roles in scientific societies (e.g Secretary of the European Carbohydrate Organisation, President of the RSC Chemical Biology Division), editorial positions (e.g., Editor-in-Chief of Current Opinion in Chemical Biology, Associate Editor of Chemical Science, Senior Editor of ACS Central Science), educational aspects (e.g. co-authorship of the long-running OUP textbook on Carbohydrate Chemistry) and his engagement in the public understanding of science (e.g. BBC Radio 4, UK Channel 5, Cheltenham Science Festival, Edinburgh Science Festival, The Times Literary Festival).

Mentorship is a primary role for him and from the >50 graduate students and >100 postdoctoral collaborators that he has guided in his group, many have emerged with their own vision for science; >20 of them now have group leader roles, following approaches and topics that continue a philosophy and interest in the chemical exploration of biology (see

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