Food chemistry and biochemistry

Food Chemistry and Biochemistry research at the University of Leeds

We have discovered and continue to investigate the molecular mechanisms underpinning health effects of bioactive compounds found in food. We combine high-throughput cellular models and in vivo human intervention studies, with implications for the prevention of obesity, metabolic diseases and cancer. This involves the discovery of how biologically-active polyphenols and related molecules affect the biochemical processes and risk factors which lead to metabolic diseases.

Our work spans metabolic and biophysical modelling studies and manipulation of cancer biology by components derived from and modulated by the diet. Studies on oxidised cholesterol metabolites (oxysterols), as emerging key regulators of cancer cell biology and gene expression in normal and malignant tissue, are yet another focus of attention.

We also investigate on structure-function relationships underlying the bioactive and self-assembly properties of biopolymers (eg polysaccharides, proteins, DNA) with implications for gut permeability, antimicrobial activity, nutrient and drug delivery and their profiling in tissues under single-cell resolution.

Our interests also include identifying biomarkers to assess dietary exposure to food born natural toxins and contaminants in plant-based foods and understanding their mechanisms of action. This entails epidemiology studies with a focus on cancer, child malnutrition, and reproductive function, and on interventions to mitigate mycotoxins using sustainable methods such as post-harvest storage improvement and public education.

This also covers the development of sensitive detection methods for the study of low molecular weight components and contaminants in food and human tissues. We research on reactions, interactions and effects on the health of components of food (proteins, carbohydrates, bioactive peptides and lipids as well as small molecules) using advanced analytical techniques.


  • Professor Williamson has appeared on Channel 4's “Superfoods: the true story” and BBC1's “Food: truth or scare?” and Dr Marshall has appeared on Channel 4’s “Food Unwrapped” to discuss the polyphenol content of dark chocolate.
  • Dr Gong has prepared scientific reports on aflatoxin impact on human health and delivered workshops to the East Africa Community (EAC), providing scientific guidance on food policy and regulations.
  • Dr Castronovo has uncovered novel emergent behaviour of nucleic acids in crowded environments, including DNA origami structures. This understanding seeks to develop nucleic acid-based biosensors that can self-adapt to diverse biological microenvironments. This will allow the development of new bioanalytical approaches that can meet the challenge of the intrinsic heterogeneity of biological tissues.
  • Professor Goycoolea’s research has pursued to develop antibiotic-free therapies against bacterial pathogens relevant to food, aquaculture and health. This involves identifying specific bioactive components occurring in plants that exhibit antiadhesion activity against bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori or uropathogenic E. coli.
  • Dr Thorne’s investigations, have led to characterizing how the array of natural ligands of liver receptors (LXR) can result in distinct transcription profiles and altering cancer cell metabolism, chemoresistance and metastasis. The real-world impact may involve developing a nutritional or pharmacological intervention to reduce the incidence of secondary breast cancer.

Links with industry

We have links with: Nestle; Florida Department of Citrus; Leeds Teaching Hospitals; Blood Lipids Research Section at Unilever; International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC); London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM); Tanzania Food and Drug Authority (TFDA); MRC Unit Gambia; MRC Unit South Africa; MRC Unit Uganda; and China Food Safety Risk Assessment Center (CFSA). We also have links with several companies from the biopolymer sector (Heppe Medical Chitosan GmbH (Germany), Greenaltec (Spain)).


We use a range of facilities including:

  • Atomic force microscope
  • Asymmetric flow field-flow-fractionation/SEC HPLC with multi-detection (MALS-DRI-UV/VIS-DLS)
  • Cell culture laboratory
  • HPLC with the following detectors: UV/Vis, fluorescence, PDA, ELDS
  • LC-MS/MS
  • qPCR (QuantStudio VII); LICOR fluorescence detection; TECAN SPARK10M multimode plate reader.

Research team

If you are interested in collaborating with us or joining our research team, please get in touch. View all members of the food chemistry and biochemistry group.


View our publications.

PhD projects

We have opportunities for prospective PhD students. Potential projects can be found in our postgraduate research opportunities directory.