Professor David Minnikin is an expert on the chemistry of the lipids of mycobacteria, particularly those of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Mycobacterium leprae. He was the originator of the definitive model of the mycobacterial cell envelope and showed that constituent long-chain mycolic acids fold specifically to form the basis of a characteristic outer membrane. He has shown that it is possible to use lipid biomarkers to detect tuberculosis in archaeological materials tens of thousands of years old.
Professor David Minnikin completed a DPhil at the Dyson Perrins Laboratory, Oxford University, on the chemistry of the lipids of tubercle bacilli with Dr. Nicholas Polgar. These and related studies were continued at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne from 1967 to 2002, leading to a post of Professor of Microbial Chemistry. In 2002, his joint research group with Prof. G.S. Besra relocated to Birmingham.