Dr Thomas Meany

I am jointly hosted by the labs of Lisa Hall (Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology) and Jim Haseloff (Plant Science) as an interdisciplinary fellow part funded through OpenPlant. My background training is as a physicist, with a specific emphasis on optics and microfabrication. I undertook a PhD in Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) where I developed microphotonic circuits using a 3D laser printing technique. My postdoctoral research continued in Toshiba’s Cambridge Research Labs where I worked on advanced manufacturing techniques for semiconductor quantum dots.

As a part of OpenPlant I am passionate about using optical analytical tools to study the production of secondary metabolites in specialised plant tissues. Specifically, the oil bodies of the Liverwort, Marchantia polymorpha, are potentially rich reservoirs of bio-active compounds. Using Raman microscopy, a label-free, non-destructive spectroscopy technique it is possible to study metabolic processes in real-time. As this is non-destructive it can be performed in situ and therefore both spatial and temporal information can be obtained. My hope is to correlate this data with information available using other approaches such as Matrix Assisted Laser Deposition Ionisation Mass Spectroscopy (MALDI), Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), fluorescence microscopy and other high resolution analytical approaches. In future this could be then adapted to studies of transgenic plant species as an additional tool to study metabolic pathways. Additional model species can also be explored, for instance Nicotiana benthamiana, and potentially crop plants. I am keen to engage with teams operating in the area of natural product chemistry, metabolic engineering or teams focused on alternative analytical approaches.

 Photo: Prototype microfluidic rapid 3D printed circuit fabricated during the Bio-Hackathon.

Photo: Prototype microfluidic rapid 3D printed circuit fabricated during the Bio-Hackathon.

Working with the Cambridge University Technology and Enterprise club (CUTEC), I organised the UK’s first Bio-Hackathon, hosted in the Department of Plant Science (Cambridge) during the week of 21-25 June 2016. This was possible with thanks, in part, to a grant provided by the University of Cambridge Synthetic Biology Strategic Research Initiative. This event brought together a diverse interdisciplinary group of 50 participants from across the UK and the world. Teams focused on “bioware” by incorporating hardware, software and wet lab tools. One team developed a 3D printed microfluidic prototyping tool, another built a comparison software tool for DNA synthesis pricing. The winning team built a tool called “Alpha-Brick” which is a drag and drop tool for assembling bio-bricks and plugs directly into Transcriptic (a cloud laboratory) allowing immediate order of an assembled part.