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We study the environmental microbiology of key biogeochemical cycles using a wide range of techniques. Our research spans the physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology/genetics, genomics and ecology of bacteria that grow on one-carbon (C1) compounds, especially methane, and trace gases such as isoprene. For an overview of research activities and details of ongoing projects see below.



The Regulation of Methane Oxidation in Methanotrophs

Methanotrophs are aerobic, Gram-negative bacteria that utilise methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as a sole carbon and energy source...


Isoprene Degradation in the Environment

Isoprene (2-methyl-1,3-butadiene) comprises approximately one third of the total volatile organic compounds emitted to the atmosphere, an amount that is approximately equal to emissions of methane...


Facultative Methanotrophy at Natural Gas Seeps

One of the largest source of methane released to the atmosphere is geological methane, which arises from the thermogenic decomposition of fossil organic material to “natural gas”...


Landfill Methane Biofilters

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is generated in landfills by the anaerobic decomposition of deposited organic waste after oxygen has been depleted...


Marine Methylotrophs

One carbon (C1) compounds such as methane, methanol and methylated amines are used as carbon and energy source by microbes known as methylotrophs...


Movile Cave

Movile Cave is a totally unique environment, situated in the south of Romania. Not only is Movile Cave a fascinating example of a bacterially-driven environment...




Colin Murrell graduated with a BSc in Physiology and Biochemistry from the University of Southampton and then did his PhD at the University of Warwick working with Howard Dalton on nitrogen metabolism in methanotrophs. He then did a postdoc with Mary Lidstrom at the University of Washington on molecular genetics of methylotrophs before establishing his own research group back at the University of Warwick in 1983. Colin worked at Warwick as full professor, head of the microbiology group and director of research until 2012, when he took up the position of Director of the Earth and Life Systems Alliance and Professor in Environmental Microbiology at the University of East Anglia where he has expanded his research interests to interact with scientists across the Norwich Research Park.

The central theme of research work carried out in the Murrell Lab is the microbiology of major biogeochemical cycles. A longstanding interest has been the study of bacteria that grow on one-carbon (C1) compounds, especially methane, and also methanol, methylated amines, methanesulfonate, dimethylsulfide and methyl halides. Activities range from the enrichment, isolation and characterisation of novel microorganisms from a wide variety of environments including soils, seawater, landfill, hot springs, methane seeps, caves, soda lakes, acidic peat bogs, the phylosphere and the rhizosphere, through to their characterisation at the physiological, biochemical and molecular level. A more recent project, funded through an ERC Advanced Grant involves the bacterial metabolism of isoprene. Isoprene is a climate-active trace gas, produced in huge amounts by trees and we are investigating the physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology and ecology of isoprene degraders in the terrestrial environment and the phylosphere. Key enzymes, particularly oxygenases, are being purified, the genes encoding these enzymes cloned and the regulation of expression of key metabolic pathways is being examined. The ecology of these various groups of microorganisms is also being studied using DNA stable isotope probing, reporter gene fusions, Raman microspectroscopy, single cell genomics, metagenomics, metatranscriptomics and metaproteomics techniques in order to establish the role of these microbes in biogeochemical cycling of isoprene, C1 compounds and atmospheric trace gases. ​This research has resulted in over 350 publications and a number of edited books and journal special issues (available to view here). ​ Over 60 PhD students have graduated from Colin’s laboratory and he has also supervised well over 100 postdoctoral fellows, research technicians and visiting researchers from more than 30 countries and considers training and mentoring of early career researchers as one of his most important roles. He has served on the editorial boards of several leading journals in microbiology including Environmental Microbiology and the ISME Journal, chaired Gordon Research Conferences on Applied & Environmental Microbiology and Microbial Growth on C1 Compounds and has served as Vice President, President and Immediate Past President of ISME (2016-2020). He is currently on the Executive Advisory Board of ISME.Colin was elected Member of EMBO in 2014 and awarded a Chinese Academy of Science President’s International Fellowship for Distinguished Scientists in 2015. ​He currently serves as SAB Member for the Max Planck Society and on the Governing Council of the John Innes Centre.



Contact Us

School of Environmental Sciences
University of East Anglia
Norwich Research Park
Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK

Tel:   +44 (0)1603 592959 (Office)


Fax:  +44 (0)1603 591327

+44 (0)1603 592239 (Lab)

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