Dr Robert Neely

Dr Robert Neely

School of Chemistry
Senior Lecturer in Biophysical Chemistry
Co-Director of the Sci-Phy-4-Health Programme

Contact details

School of Chemistry
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Rob Neely currently holds an EPSRC Healthcare Technologies Challenge Award. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2001 and completed his PhD, also in Edinburgh, in 2005. Since then, he has been awarded EPSRC, Marie Curie and IWT research fellowships. He started his research group in Birmingham in 2014 and since has had major research grants from the EU and EPSRC. His interdisciplinary research group focusses their efforts on understanding the DNA molecule by working at the interface of the physical and biological sciences.


  • PhD in Physical Chemistry, University of Edinburgh, 2005
  • MChem, University of Edinburgh, 2001


Rob Neely graduated with a MChem from Edinburgh in 2001. He completed his PhD in Edinburgh in 2005, working in Anita Jones’s group on the application of time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopy to study the DNA duplex. He was awarded an EPSRC post doctoral fellowship at the Life Sciences Interface (Edinburgh) and spent a year with Nobel Laureate, Sir Richard Roberts at New England Biolabs, MA as part of this work.

Rob moved to Johan Hofkens’ group in Leuven, Belgium in 2009 to take up a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship and was subsequently awarded an ‘Innovatiemandaat’ by the Flemish Government in 2012 to pursue the development of a single-molecule DNA mapping platform.

Rob took up his post in Birmingham in July 2014 and has since been awarded major grants from the EU and the EPSRC (Healthcare Technologies Challenge Award).


Teaching Programmes

  • Molecules and Materials in Biomedicine, Sci-Phy Centre for Doctoral Training
  • Photochemistry, Chemistry



  • Single-molecule imaging
  • Fluorescence microscopy
  • Fluorescence spectroscopy
  • DNA
  • DNA methyltransferase enzymes
  • DNA mapping
  • Super-resolution microscopy


Sequence-specific DNA modification using the DNA Methyltransferase enzymes.

Nature has evolved exquisite specificity, of which the DNA methyltransferase enzymes are just one fascinating example. In bacteria, these enzymes are part of the bacterium’s defence mechanism against viral invasion. We use these enzymes to deliver functional groups to DNA molecules at specific sequence motifs. This is leading to a range of novel applications including the development of a new DNA mapping technology that can be used as a rapid screen for pathogens.

Single-molecule fluorescence microscopy

We frequently observe chemical and biological processes at the ensemble level. What this means is that, in these experiments, we measure an average signal from the entire population of molecules in the system. In biology, this can be misleading since it is often those few molecules in a system that are behaving differently to the others that are really determining the system’s behaviour. For example, a single mutated enzyme may develop off-target specificity that can lead to a cascade of potential problems in a cell. Our group is developing and applying new ways to study biological systems at the single-molecule level, predominantly using fluorescence microscopy.


Selected publications

  • A general strategy for direct, enzyme-catalyzed conjugation of functional compounds to DNA, Jochem Deen, Su Wang, Sven Van Snick, Volker Leen, Kris Janssen, Johan Hofkens and Robert K Neely, Nucleic Acids Research, (2018), https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gky184

  • Methyltransferase-directed covalent coupling of fluorophores to DNA, Milena Helmer Lauer, Charlotte Vranken, Jochem Deen, Wout Frederickx, Willem Vanderlinden, Nathaniel Wand, Volker Leen, Marcelo H. Gehlen, Johan Hofkens  and Robert K. Neely, Chemical Science, (2017), 8, 3804-3811, 10.1039/C6SC04229E

  • Methyltransferase directed labeling of biomolecules and its applications, Jochem Deen, Charlotte Vranken, Volker Leen, Robert K. Neely, Kris P. F. Janssen, and Johan Hoefkens, Angewandte Chemie, (2017), 56, 19, 5182–5200, 10.1002/anie.201608625

  • Human BRCA1-BARD1 ubiquitin ligase activity counteracts chromatin barriers to DNA resection, Ruth M Densham, Alexander J Garvin, Helen R Stone, Joanna Strachan, Robert A Baldock, Manuel Daza-Martin, Alice Fletcher, Sarah Blair-Reid, James Beesley, Balraj Johal, Laurence H Pearl, Robert Neely, Nicholas H Keep, Felicity Z Watts & Joanna R Morris, Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, (2016), 23, 647-655, 10.1038/nsmb.3236

  • 2-aminopurine as a fluorescent probe of DNA conformation and the DNA-enzyme interface, A. C. Jones and R. K. Neely, Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics, (2015) 48 (2), 244-279, DOI: 10.1017/S0033583514000158

  • Combing of Genomic DNA from Droplets Containing Picograms of Material, Jochem Deen, Wouter Sempels, Raf De Dier, Jan Vermant, Peter Dedecker, Johan Hofkens, and Robert K. Neely, ACS Nano (2015), 9 (1), 809–816, DOI: 10.1021/nn5063497

  • Super-resolution Optical DNA Mapping via DNA Methyltransferase-directed Click-chemistry, Charlotte Vranken, Jochem Deen, Lieve Dirix, Tim Stakenborg, Wim Dehaen, Volker Leen, Johan Hofkens and Robert K. Neely, (2014) Nucleic Acids Resarch, 42 (7): e50.

  • Charlotte Vranken, Jochem Deen, Lieve Dirix, Tim Stakenborg, Wim Dehaen, Volker Leen, Johan Hofkens and Robert K. Neely, (2014) “Super-resolution Optical DNA Mapping via DNA Methyltransferase-directed Click-chemistry” Nucleic Acids Resarch, 42 (7): e50
  • Douglas M Matje, Hongjun Zhou, Darren A. Smith, Robert K. Neely, David T.F. Dryden, Anita C Jones, Frederick Willis Dahlquist, and Norbert O. Reich (2013) “Enzyme Promoted Base Flipping Controls DNA Methylation Fidelity” Biochemistry, 52, 1677–1685
  • Peter Dedecker , Sam Duwé , Robert K. Neely , Jin Zhang (2012) “Localizer: fast, accurate, open-source, and modular software package for superresolution microscopy” Journal of Biomedical Optics, 17, 126008.
  • Robert K. Neely, Jochem Deen and Johan Hofkens (2011) “Optical mapping of DNA: Single-molecule-based methods for mapping genomes” Biopolymers,95, 298-311
  • Robert K. Neely, Jun-ichi Hotta, Peter Dedecker, Giedre Urbanaviciute, Saulius Klimasauskas and Johan Hofkens (2010) “DNA fluorocode: A single molecule optical map of DNA with nanometer resolution” Chemical Science, 1, 453-460

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