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Special advisor on Marine Genetic Resources to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature at the United Nations process on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction. 2019-
Chair of advisory panel of policy and legal experts (Part of the PharmaSea EU FP7 consortium lead by Marcel Jaspars 2012-17) bringing together policymakers (United Nations, European Commission) with NGOs (International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Convention on Biodiversity Secretariat, International Seabed Authority) with international marine biotechnology companies and academic and legal/policy experts to shape the policy debate on intellectual property derived from marine genetic resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction (United Nations process on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction). Contributions recorded on our BBNJ Page and our Song of the Ocean page
UK member of the Marine Biotechnology working group of the European Science Foundation’s Marine Board Marine Biotechnology Working Group to assist in the revision of the White Paper “Marine Biotechnology – A European Strategy” 2009-2010
Prizes and Awards
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Research Development Fellow, 2006-2009
American Society of Pharmacognosy Matt Suffness Award for young investigators, 2003
Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Chartered Chemist
My research involves the discovery of new compounds with potential pharmaceutical use from marine and desert environments, their structure determination and biosynthesis. Translation of bioactive natural compounds into preclinical evaluation is exemplified by with sponge derived compounds/analogues that have activity in animal models for Alzheimer’s disease or epilepsy or are able to deliver proteins into animal brains to generate a model of Alzheimer’s disease.
Natural Product Structure Determination: Structural work involves the use of complementary NMR and theoretical methods to solve the relative stereochemistry of complex natural products, particularly the use of NOE data to constrain conformational searches and the comparison of predicted and experimental CD spectra. A combination of analytical and spectroscopic methods was used to define a metal complex present in the extract of a seasquirt, giving insight into its ecological role.
Together with Leo Gross at IBM Research, I started original work on organic structure determination using a combination of spectroscopy and atomic force microscopy (AFM). First we showed how Ångstrom-resolution AFM images may be used to solve the structure of a simple planar molecule and how this process might be generalised. Subsequently we applied the combined methods to an unknown molecule with a NMR silent region (no H atoms). In a book chapter, we propose the developments needed so that AFM may become invaluable in the rapid structure determination of complex organic molecules in the future.
Biosynthesis: The isolation and structural characterisation of modified cyclic peptides of marine origin was driven by an interest in their chemical structure in solution and their interaction with metal ions. A major problem with these bioactive cyclic compounds was a sustainable supply. In 2004, I worked together with Dr Paul Long at the London School of Pharmacy and scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science to effect the first shotgun cloning of the patellamide biosynthetic pathway resulting in low level production of these compounds.
Subsequent collaboration with Professor Jim Naismith at St Andrews succeeded in overexpressing and structurally characterising the main enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of the patellamides and related cyanobactins. Working together, we defined the main proteases involved including the macrocyclase that circularises a linear peptide without inclusion of a signal sequence, thus making it a very exciting prospect for biotechnological application. We have defined a unique enzyme that forms the heterocycles – the first crystal structure of this type of enzyme. Engineering of this enzyme allowed short synthetic peptide sequences to be processed to form heterocycles in the chain. These enzymes are extremely permissive, and natural and non-natural substrates can be processed using them resulting in the formation milligram quantities of complex, modified cyclic peptides. The starting sequences may include non-natural amino acids and even non-amino acid segments such as fatty acids, aromatics and sugars, with a minimum of three residues required for this to work.
GyreOx uses an automated chemoenzymatic process to design compounds to treat complex diseases to hit ‘undruggable’ targets. The GyreOx combination of computational design, automation and unique engineered enzymes allows them to deliver novel drugs in the chemical space beyond the 'rule of 5'. Focussed library design enables better compound-target interaction and the tuning of important drug properties. No other technology offers GyreOx's degree of flexibility in design and production.
The company was founded in late 2019 together with Prof Jim Naismith at the University of Oxford and Dr Bill Primrose, Entrepreneur, with funding from Innovate UK and other investors.
Knowledge Exchange and Public Engagement
Protecting the Oceans Using Chemistry
Professor Marcel Jaspars has been advising the UN to develop a new law to protect marine biodiversity. The UN is working to conserve and sustainably use marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction – about 60% of the oceans and 40% of the entire planet. The Song of the Oceans brings together science, the arts and humanities to publicise the urgent need to conserve the oceans.
Marcel provided scientific leadership for a large EU FP7 consortium ‘PharmaSea’, running from 2012-2017 with the contribution of 24 partners from 14 countries. Part of this project was to engage with stakeholders, NGOs and policy makers to provide sound scientific advice on major issues affecting the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity. His major role was to translate scientific information and provide options on this topic to senior policy makers at the EU and UN, making visits to Brussels and New York to present information in a digestible format and answer questions, paying particular attention to the legal and policy requirements.
Marcel has been active at national and international levels to develop the science, its applications/industrial uptake and associated policy involved in marine biodiscovery and biotechnology. Since 2014 Marcel has been involved in the BBNJ process, providing scientific input and co-authoring the Mare Geneticum proposal which provides building blocks based on good scientific practice towards a solution for the MGR aspects of the BBNJ process. Also see our work to bring this to a wider audience with our 'Song of the Oceans'.
At EU level he was involved in coordinating the authoring the health section of a European Science Foundation position paper on the Future of Marine Biotechnology informing the blue growth agenda of the European Commission through a number of concrete and measurable recommendations. In 2017 he was a member of the UK Marine Foresight Committee’s Royal Society Working group that wrote a report entitled ‘Future Ocean Resources: Metal-Rich Minerals and Genetics’ on the UN BBNJ issue and he has since provided advice on this topic to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. More recently he was a co-author on a report on the Ocean Genome for the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy and a lead author on a study for the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity on Digital Sequence Information on Genetic Resources: Scope, Concept and Current Use.
Marcel Jaspars speaking at UN HQ in New York as advisor to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature at the Second Intergovernmental Conference on the UN process on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction