Peter Quinn

Peter Quinn


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Personal profile

Research interests

Four research projects are currently in progress:


1. The Structure and Stability of Biological Membranes.

Studies of the thermotropic phase behaviour of model membrane systems are performed to gain an understanding of biomembrane structure and processes including:

1. Stability of membranes at low temperatures and the mechanism of action of cryoprotective agents (Chem. Phys. Lipids 114, 2002, 112-120).

2. Membrane signal transduction processes ( Biophys. Chem. 89, 2001, 163-172).

3. The physicochemical properties of glycolipids ( Liquid Crystals, 20, 1996, 469-482).

4. The role of unsaturated lipids in the organisation of oligomeric protein complexes (Biochem. Soc. Trans., 25, 1997, 1080-1088).

Experiments using real-time synchrotron X-ray diffraction are performed at synchrotron radiation sources at Brookhaven, NY, Tsukuba, Japan, DESY, Hamburg and the Daresbury Laboratory, UK. Competitive grants are awarded for beamtime at these facilities and additional funding support is provided by CCLRC and the British Council.

2. The Role of Vitamin E in Antioxidant Action. 

A new theory for the functional role of vitamin E has been proposed. Rather than acting solely as an antioxidant and membrane stabilizer as hitherto believed the controlled oxidation of vitamin E by superoxide generated by ubisemiquinol is said to cause membrane fusion. Regeneration of E from the tocopheroloxyl radical by ubiquinol completes a Q-E cycle. Experiments to test the Q-E cycle hypothesis (Kagan, V.E., Nohl, H. and Quinn, P.J. (1996) Coenzyme Q: its role in scavenging and generation of radicals in membranes. In: Handbook of Antioxidants (Cadenas, P. and Packer, L., eds), pp. 157-201, Marcel Dekker, New York) include the finding that Vitamin E partitions specifically to form stable stoichiometric bilayer complexes with phosphatidylcholines (Eur. J. Biochem., 267, 2000, 6362-6368) but destabilizes phosphatidylethanolamines to favour non-bilayer phases (Chem. Phys. Lipids, 114, 2002, 1-9) and one electron reduction of ubiquinone-10 by superoxide ion results in formation of ubiquinone radicals which cause redox cycling of vitamin E from its phenoxyl radical thereby preventing loss of vitamin E (Archiv. Biochem. Biophys. 323, 1995, 343-351).

The work is performed in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh and funds awarded by the Wellcome Trust International Collaborative Award support reciprocal visits between the two laboratories.

3. Development of Non-linear Optical Biosensors.

A project supported by the LINK Scheme under the Photonics Programme was initiated in 1997 between King's College, Robert Gordon University and Hook & Tucker Instruments Ltd and King's has been appointed to manage the project. In addition, the partners of the LINK project are members of a consortium that have obtained EUREKA status with A/S Nunc of Denmark, one of the world's leading suppliers of plastics used for immunoassays. The project is funded in part by the Department of Trade & Industry and EPSRC with an initial 3 year budget of about £750k.

Another project to develop an optical DNA sensor has been funded under the Biomed-2 Framework IV Programme of the EC commenced on 1 January, 1999 and was completed in Dec 2001. The same consortium as the LINK/EUREKA project undertook the work in collaboration with Randox Laboratories Ltd. Overall funding for the project is 1mECU.

The strategy involves the use of non-linear optical methods of surface second-harmonic and sum frequency generation to detect immuno and enzyme reactions and nucleotide hybridisation in assays that do not require separation of free and bound components (European Patent EP 0 740 156 A1, 2001; patents are pending in Canada, US and Japan).

Results obtained from application of the technology have been published (Sensor Applic.3, 2001, 75-81).

4. Pump mechanism of P-type ATPases.

A project supported by the Royal Society Joint Projects with the Former Soviet Union scheme is being used to continue a long-standing collaboration with colleagues at the Department of Biochemistry, Moscow State University. The research strategy is to examine the molecular mechanisms of cation translocation across biological membranes by measuring rotational motion of the proteins using flash photolysis. A review of the results can be found in Quinn, P.J. Rotational dynamics of E1-E2 conformers of cation transport ATPases. Trans. Biochem. Soc., 22, 1994, 830-838.


Research interests (short)

The Structure and Stability of Biological Membranes; The Role of Vitamin E in Antioxidant Action; Development of Non-linear Optical Biosensors; Pump mechanism of P-type ATPases.



Biographical details



Dookie Agricultural College Jan. 1957-Dec. 1959 D.D.A.
University of Melbourne Jan. 1960-Dec. 1963 B. Agr. Sci.
University of Sydney Jan. 1964-Dec. 1966 Ph.D.
University of London Oct. 1976-June 1978 M.Sc., Immunology.
University of London 1980 D.Sc., Biochemistry.


Fellowships, Academic Appointments etc.


1964-66 Research studentship, University of Sydney, Ford Foundation Fellowship.
1967 Royal Agricultural Society, Research Fellow, University of Sydney.
1968-69 Research Fellow, Biochemistry Department, A.R.C. Institute of Animal Physiology, Cambridge, U.K.
1970 Research Instructor, Department of Psychiatry, Washington University Medical School, St. Louis, Mo., U.S.A.
1971 Visiting Instructor, Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, U.S.A.
1972-74 Senior Research Fellow, Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford, and part-time Lecturer, Worcester College, Oxford, U.K.
1973 Visiting Research Fellow, Department of Biochemistry, Hadassah Medical School and the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel.
1979 Senior Visiting Research Scientist, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Sydney, Australia.
1974-79 Lecturer in Biochemistry, Chelsea College, University of London.
1980-85 Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry, Chelsea College.
1985-89 Reader in Biophysical Chemistry, King's College London.
1988 Visiting Professor, University of Guelph, Canada.
1989- Professor of Biochemistry, King's College London.
1993 Monbusho Professor, Nagoya University, Japan
1993-9 Visiting Professor, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen.
1997- Adjunct Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health in the Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh.
2004-08 Guest Professor of Chemistry, Tsinghua University, Beijing.
2009- Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry, King's College London


Research Interests:


Publications include ten books and more than 400 research papers on the subject of biological membranes and their constituents. The primary approach in this research has been to apply a range of biophysical methods including time-resolved X-ray diffraction, differential scanning calorimetry, freeze-fracture electron microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, laser flash photolysis and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy to address questions concerned with relationships between biomembrane structure and function. Other research includes the development of sensor devices based on nonlinear optical detection systems.


Patents include:


Homogeneous Catalytic Hydrogenation, 1976.
Pesticide Spray Method, 1982.
Surface Second-harmonic and Sum Frequency Generation Immuno and Enzyme Assays, 1995.
Editorial Board member of 5 International Scientific Journals.

Member of the Beam Allocation Panel of the Daresbury Synchrotron Radiation Source (non-crystalline diffraction), 1990-1994.

Coordinator of an international scientific team performing time-resolved X-ray diffraction experiments at Daresbury SRS, Brookhaven NSLS and the Photon Factory, Tsukuba.

Project Manager LINK-EUREKA SURFSENS Project (1996-99).

Project Manager CRAFT Biomed-2 Project Optical DNA Sensors (1999-2001). 


Professional Activities:


Elected to membership of the Biochemical Society, 1976
Elected member of the Membrane Group Committee, 1976; Sec/Treas, 1980-83; Chairman, 1988-93.
Elected to Committee of the Biochemical Society, 1982-86; Society representative on Bioenergetics Group Committee, 1982-86.
Member of Harden Conference Committee, 1982; Chairman, 1986-93.
Member of the British National Committee for Physiological Sciences, 1985-89.
Member of Council of Biochemical Society, 1990-93.
Organised 7 International Scientific meetings and 15 national colloquia.

Invited Speaker/Chairman at 84 international and 54 national scientific meetings.

Director of Polytechnology Transfer Limited and consultant to several industrial companies.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


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