Professor Sir Michael Ferguson


Interim Dean

Life Sciences Office, School of Life Sciences

Academic Lead for Research Strategy

School of Life Sciences

Mike Ferguson
On this page




+44 (0)1382 384219


Ferguson Lab


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.

Declared Interests  
Start date on Court 8 November 2021
Employment (other than University of Dundee) Consultant for GSK for the Open Targets
  1. Medicines for Malaria Venture
  2. UK Biobank
Other pecuniary interests Amphista Therapeutics
Any other disclosure None
Related parties None
Register Last Updated 2022


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).

View full research profile and publications

Media availability

I am available for media commentary on my research.

Professor Sir Michael is an expert on the biochemistry of protozoan parasites, the molecular details of infection in general and on drug discovery for infectious and non-infectious diseases. He serves on the boards of the Medicines for Malaria Venture and UK Biobank and previously of the Wellcome Trust.

Contact Corporate Communications for media enquiries.

Areas of expertise

  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • Infectious diseases
  • Medicines


Award Year
National Sciences Prizes awarded since 1990 / Biochemical Society Morton Lecture 2024
Innovation and Knowledge Exchange awards / Knowledge Exchange Champion at Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards 2024
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