Cait MacPhee


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Personal profile


Research Interests

I have two broadly inter-related research interests:

  1. I aim to understand the behaviour of proteins: the molecules that are responsible for the vast majority of functions in living organisms. The controlled self-assembly of proteins into well-defined structures and functional assemblies is essential to our well-being, however occasionally protein self-assembly takes place inappropriately. When this happens in the body it typically causes disease, and familial diseases as well as diseases of ageing (such as Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease, cataract and type II diabetes) are all recognised to be the result of improper protein self-assembly. Protein self-assembly can also cause havoc in industrial processes including the production of biopharmaceuticals (e.g. insulin). When this occurs, the pharmaceutical is often lost as an irretrievably tangled mass of gelled protein. All is not lost, however: the self-assembly of proteins also underpins the texture of foodstuffs including egg, meat and milk products. It is understanding this process of self-assembly - to prevent or reverse disease, or to drive the development of new materials and foodstuffs - that forms one focus of my research efforts.
  2. I am also interested in the structure, function and formation of microbial biofilms. Biofilms are ubiquitous, and the most prevalent form of microbial life on Earth. They are multicellular structures self-assembled by the microbes, which encase themselves in a sticky "slime" that protects them from environmental insults. Due to their ubiquity, microbial biofilms have an impact on every industrial sector. Biofilms can be beneficial, but when they form in the wrong places they cause damage, disease and/or degradation. I am interested in the process of self-assembly of biofilms, the mechanics of the structures formed, and the potential for engineering ideal microbial communities to perform specific functions.



I am a Personal Tutor in the School of Physics and Astronomy and I supervise undergraduate research projects. I have taught Biological Physics, Soft Matter Physics, Research Methods, and Physics 1A.


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