Imperial College London


Faculty of Natural SciencesDepartment of Life Sciences

Honorary Senior Lecturer



+44 (0)20 7594 5355j.heap




Bessemer BuildingSouth Kensington Campus





Dr John Heap is an Honorary Senior Lecturer in Synthetic Biology in the Department of Life Sciences and the Imperial College Centre for Synthetic Biology (IC-CSynB). The group website is at

The Heap lab was based at Imperial 2013-2019, and then largely moved to the University of Nottingham, which is now its main home.

We are interested in the design and construction of synthetic biological systems which process matter, energy and information in useful ways not observed in nature. Our research involves both the development of foundational biological technologies and their use for applications, mainly in chemical manufacture and in health. An important aspect of this research is developing reliable approaches to implement synthetic biological systems using diverse organisms important (or with the potential to be) in industrial or medical applications. Engineering metabolism is often important for our applications, and a particular interest is how non-natural metabolic constraints can be used to re-direct fluxes and achieve high yields.

We work on several different types of organisms, but focus most on Clostridium and cyanobacteria, in which we are developing and applying new approaches to exploit the great metabolic potential of these important microorganisms. We also now work on enzyme evolution.

If you are not a scientist (or even if you are) and would like a non-specialist introduction to some of our research interests and motivations, have a look at John's ‘IdeasLab’ presentation at the World Economic Forum:

Hacking exotic organisms and putting them to work

John's World Economic Forum IdeasLab talk on YouTube

Before starting his group in 2013, John was a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Bayer lab in CSynBI, where he worked on synthetic metabolic systems in microbial photosynthesis and anaerobic fermentation. 

Prior to joining Imperial College in 2011, John completed his PhD and worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham, where he developed crucial genetic tools for the industrially and medically important bacterial genus Clostridium. These tools (e.g. see clostron.comhave had a great impact on the field, and are used by John and many others in genetic and metabolic engineering for medical and industrial applications.

Click here to see more publications.

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Taylor GM, Hitchcock A, Heap JT, 2021, Combinatorial assembly platform enabling engineering of genetically stable metabolic pathways in cyanobacteria., Nucleic Acids Res

Thirumurthy MA, Hitchcock A, Cereda A, et al., 2020, Type IV Pili-Independent Photocurrent Production by the Cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803, Frontiers in Microbiology, Vol:11, ISSN:1664-302X

Liu Z, Yoshihara A, Jenkinson SF, et al., 2020, Hanessian-Hullar reaction in the synthesis of highly substituted trans-3,4-dihydroxypyrrolidines: Rhamnulose iminosugar mimics inhibit alpha-glucosidase, Tetrahedron, Vol:76, ISSN:0040-4020

Taylor GM, Heap JT, 2020, Design and Implementation of Multi-protein Expression Constructs and Combinatorial Libraries using Start-Stop Assembly., Methods Mol Biol, Vol:2205, Pages:219-237

Mordaka PM, Heap JT, 2018, Stringency of Synthetic Promoter Sequences in Clostridium Revealed and Circumvented by Tuning Promoter Library Mutation Rates, Acs Synthetic Biology, Vol:7, Pages:672-681

Kelly CL, Liu Z, Yoshihara A, et al., 2016, Synthetic Chemical Inducers and Genetic Decoupling Enable Orthogonal Control of the rhaBAD Promoter., Acs Synth Biol, Vol:5, Pages:1136-1145

Heap JT, Theys J, Ehsaan M, et al., 2014, Spores of Clostridium engineered for clinical efficacy and safety cause regression and cure of tumors in vivo, Oncotarget, Vol:5, Pages:1761-1769

Kovacs K, Willson BJ, Schwarz K, et al., 2013, Secretion and assembly of functional mini-cellulosomes from synthetic chromosomal operons in Clostridium acetobutylicum ATCC 824, Biotechnology for Biofuels, Vol:6, ISSN:1754-6834

Heap JT, Ehsaan M, Cooksley CM, et al., 2012, Integration of DNA into bacterial chromosomes from plasmids without a counter-selection marker, Nucleic Acids Research, Vol:40, ISSN:0305-1048

Kuehne SA, Cartman ST, Heap JT, et al., 2010, The role of toxin A and toxin B in Clostridium difficile infection, Nature, Vol:467, ISSN:0028-0836, Pages:711-U97

Heap JT, Kuehne SA, Ehsaan M, et al., 2010, The ClosTron: Mutagenesis in Clostridium refined and streamlined, Journal of Microbiological Methods, Vol:80, ISSN:0167-7012, Pages:49-55

Heap JT, Pennington OJ, Cartman ST, et al., 2009, A modular system for Clostridium shuttle plasmids, Journal of Microbiological Methods, Vol:78, ISSN:0167-7012, Pages:79-85

Heap JT, Pennington OJ, Cartman ST, et al., 2007, The ClosTron: A universal gene knock-out system for the genus Clostridium, Journal of Microbiological Methods, Vol:70, ISSN:0167-7012, Pages:452-464

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