Professor Sir Michael Ferguson
CBE FRS FRSE FMedSci FRSB
Regius Professor of Life Sciences
Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery, School of Life Sciences
Academic Lead for Research Strategy
+44 (0)1382 384219
Mike Ferguson is Regius Professor of Life Sciences in the School of Life Sciences. On 5 November 2021, he was elected as an academic member of Staff Council to serve a four-year term on Court, running to 31 July 2025.
Mike Ferguson obtained a PhD in Biochemistry (1982) at London University. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Rockefeller University, New York, with George Cross FRS and at Oxford University with Raymond Dwek FRS. He took up a lectureship at The University of Dundee in 1988 and was promoted to a personal chair in Molecular Parasitology in 1994 and was appointed the first Regius Professor of Life Sciences in 2013.
He has published over 250 peer reviewed research papers and is known for solving the first structures of glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) membrane anchors, which play important roles throughout eukaryotic biology.
His research takes a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the biochemistry of protozoan parasites that cause tropical diseases, particularly the trypanosomatids that cause human African Sleeping Sickness, Chagas' disease and leishmaniasis. He believes in the fundamental importance of working across the Biology / Chemistry interface and is particularly interested in Translational Research. Together with his colleagues, he was instrumental in establishing the Drug Discovery Unit at the University of Dundee and he is a member of the Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research. He is also co-Director of the successful Dundee Proteomics Facility.
Mike was Dean of Research for Life Sciences from 2007-2014 and continues to play a role in Research Strategy. He led the construction of the Discovery Centre for Translational and Interdisciplinary Research and is co-lead on the Growing the Tay Cities BioMedical Cluster component of the Tay Cities Deal. He is Deputy Chair of The Wellcome Trust, a member of the Board of Directors of the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV). He is a Fellow of the Royal Societies of London and Edinburgh, of the Academy of Medical Sciences and a member of EMBO. He was knighted in 2019 for services to science.
Start date on Court
8 November 2021
Employment (other than University of Dundee)
Consultant for GSK for the Open Targets
Other pecuniary interests
Any other disclosure
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Insect-transmitted protozoan parasites cause widespread and debilitating diseases in man and domestic livestock throughout the tropics. Examples of diseases caused by trypanosomatid parasites include African sleeping sickness (caused by Trypanosoma brucei and transmitted by tsetse flies), Chagas disease (caused by Trypanosoma cruzi) and kala-azar, espundia and oriental sore (caused by the Leishmania). There are no vaccines against these diseases and most of the available drug treatments are toxic and/or ineffective.
Parasite surface molecules must protect the organisms and enable them to identify, and interact with, cells of both the insect vector and the animal host. Many trypanosomatid parasite surface molecules are either glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchored glycoproteins or GPI-related glycolipids (Figure.1 below).
The parasite GPI biosynthetic pathway, and the pathways that assemble the sugar nucleotides that fuel it and the protein O- and N-glycosylation pathways, are validated targets for the development of new chemotherapeutic agents.
See Figure 2 below - The structural, biosynthetic and metabolic repertoires of Trypanosoma brucei
Our research is multi-disciplinary and involves defining:
- The "structural repertoire" of the parasite glycoproteins (Figures.1 & 3 see below)
- The "biosynthetic repertoire" of necessary glycosyltransferases and processing enzymes needed to create the structural repertoire (Figure 2 below)
- The "metabolic repertoire" of sugar nucleotides, and their biosynthetic and transporter proteins, needed to fuel the biosynthetic repertoire (Figures.2 & 4 below)
See Figure 3 below - The structural repertoire of known glycosidic linkages in Trypanosoma brucei
These goals involve:
(A) The isolation and analysis of parasite surface molecules and sugar nucleotide metabolites using advanced mass spectrometric methods (1-3).
(B) Bioinformatics, gene-knockout, cell biology and advanced mass spectrometric methods, to identify, localise and study the functions of glycoprotein (GPI anchoring and protein N-glycosylation) glycosyltransferases and sugar nucleotide biosynthetic enzymes (4-13).
See Figure 4 below - The metabolic repertoire of sugar nucleotide assembly in Trypanosoma brucei, T.cruzi and Leishmania major. Adapted from Turnock and Ferguson (2007) Eukaryotic Cell 6, 1450-1463
(C) The use of quantitative (eg. SILAC) proteomics (14,15) and phosphoproteomics (16,17) methods to determine organellomes, signalling pathways and to identify the modes of action of drugs developed from phenotypic screens.
(D) Enzymology to define the properties and substrate specificities of enzymes involved in protein glycosylation, GPI anchor biosynthesis and sugar nucleotide assembly (7-10, 18-21).
(E) Drug Discovery, including X-ray crystallography and molecular modelling of drug target enzymes (7-10, 21,22) (Fig.5) (in collaboration with Bill Hunter, Daan van Aalten and the Structural Genomics Consortium), computational chemistry, high-throughput screening and molecular pharmacology (in collaboration with David Gray) and medicinal chemistry (in collaboration with Ian Gilbert and Paul Wyatt).
We also have ongoing studies on the proteome and phosphoproteome of T.brucei (14-17).
See Figure 5 below - Crystal structure and active site of T.brucei UDP-glucose 4'-epimerase, a drug target for African sleeping sickness
Our ultimate aim is to discover new anti-parasite therapeutic agents for clinical trials through our unique Drug Discovery Unit (23).
Biomarker Discovery and Diagnostics Development
In addition to our work on parasite glycobiology, we use our expertise in mass spectrometry and proteomics to develop lateral flow diagnostic devices for human and animal trypanosomiasis (24-27).
UK Biobank recently announced the appointment of Professor Sir Michael Ferguson to its Board.
Recently published papers from the Ferguson lab describe the presence of a fucosyltransferase in the mitochondria of two protozoan parasites
Glycosyltransferases (GTs) are enzymes that transfer sugars from donor to an acceptor molecule. There are dozens of GT gene families, classified by sequence, sequence motifs and enzymatic function.
Molecular parasitology, glycobiology and drug discovery
|National Sciences Prizes awarded since 1990 / Honorary Membership of British Society for Parasitology||2022|
|Knight Bachelor of the British Empire||2019|
|Honorary Degrees / Doctor of Science (DSc), University of St Andrews||2017|
|Major Personal Funding Awards / Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award||2013|
|National Sciences Prizes awarded since 1990 / Royal Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh||2013|
|Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology||2009|
|Commander of the British Empire (CBE)||2008|
|Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences||2007|
|National Sciences Prizes awarded since 1990 / CA Wright Memorial Medal of the British Society for Parasitology||2006|
|Fellow of the Royal Society||2000|
|Member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation||1999|
|International Science Prizes awarded since 1990 / The International Glycoconjugate Prize, Tokyo, Japan||1999|
|National Sciences Prizes awarded since 1990 / Makdougall Brisbane Prize of The Royal Society of Edinburgh||1996|
|Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh||1994|
|International Science Prizes awarded since 1990 / Howard Hughes International Scholarships||1993|
|National Sciences Prizes awarded since 1990 / The Colworth Medal of the British Biochemical Society||1991|