Dr Tim Overton BSc PhD

School of Chemical Engineering
Reader in Microbial Biotechnology

Contact details

School of Chemical Engineering
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr Tim Overton is a biochemist and molecular microbiologist who is interested in applying molecular biology and single-cell techniques to understand and develop bioprocesses. He is active in microbial flow cytometry research and collaborates widely with bioprocess engineers, molecular microbiologists, cell biologists and environmental microbiologists to develop new methods of answering fundamental questions on a single-cell level.

His research also focuses on using bacteria to make useful products such as protein drugs and small molecules, and the bacterial responses to stress encountered in such processes. Current and recent research funding has come from the BBSRC, TSB and EU FP7. 

Tim Overton is part of the Healthcare Technologies Institute (HTI), an interdisciplinary network of over 70 academics working together to advance new technologies and treatments that encourage better tissue healing and rehabilitation tools.  The HTI brings together leading experts from a variety of disciplines across the University of Birmingham, including chemical engineering, biomedical science, computer science, applied mathematics, chemistry and physics. Researchers across campus are working collaboratively to speed up the translation of new discoveries into health applications.


  • PGCert in Learning & Teaching in HE, University of Birmingham, 2012
  • PhD in Biochemistry, University of Birmingham, 2003
  • BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry with Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Birmingham, 1999


Prior to joining Chemical Engineering, Dr Overton was a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Biosciences at the University of Birmingham, studying microbial physiology and gene regulation in both model organisms (Escherichia coli) and human pathogens (Neisseria gonorrhoeae and E. coli O157) in response to oxygen and reactive species using transcriptomic, proteomic and other molecular biology techniques. Using systems biology and other molecular approaches, he identified mechanisms for bacterial survival in adverse environments. 

Research became focused on bioprocessing topics during a BBSRC-EPSRC Bioprocessing Research Industry Club (BRIC) grant in collaboration with GSK, studying the production of difficult recombinant proteins in E. coli. Dr Overton was initially postdoctoral researcher on this project, and moved to a Co-I role upon taking up his position in the School of Chemical Engineering. 

He has since built a research group focused on three main areas: production of high-value products using microbial fermentation; bacterial biofilms and how to use them to produce useful products or to remove them from where they are not desired; and how microbes can be eliminated from various processing streams. Research areas are further detailed below.

Dr Overton is director of MSc programmes in the School of Chemical Engineering and chairs the School MSc and EngD board of examiners. He is a member of the University Advisory Group on Biological Hazards and is School GMO safety officer and a member of the School safety committee. He is a member of BBSRC research committee D, reviews for research councils (BBSRC, EPSRC, MRC) and other funding bodies (Carnegie Trust of Edinburgh, NSF, National Biofilms Innovation Centre) and journals.


Teaching topics include basic biology and molecular biology, systems and synthetic biology, genomic technologies, fermentation and cell culture and analysis of microbial physiology. Dr Overton also supervises fermentation practicals at laboratory and pilot scale (~100 litres).

Postgraduate supervision

We are interested in using information about the molecular microbiology and physiology of bacteria to develop processes. We focus on three main areas:

- Development of bioprocesses that generate high-value products (for example recombinant protein biopharmaceuticals, polymers, small molecules);
- Understanding biofilms and they ways in which their structure and function are regulated and might be modulated; and
- Developing processes that are designed to eliminate contaminating bacteria from product streams (for example foods and waste streams).


Research is split into three main themes. Throughout each stream we are interested in applying microbial physiology to solve real-world problems and optimise processes. We work closely with industry to do this.

Fermentation for useful products

Microbes are used for the production of many high-value products in fermentation processes. We investigate how these processes might be improved and optimised, to increase yields, shorten development times and accelerate innovation in bioproduction. Research has focused on a variety of product types.

  • Recombinant proteins for biopharmaceutical use, manufactured in E. coli as a host. Research focuses on hard-to-manufacture proteins, stress minimisation, fermentation intensification, analysis of physiology in real time and transport of proteins to the periplasm (funded by BBSRC / EPSRC / InnovateUK KTP and in collaboration with industry). 
  • Biopolymers for replacement of petrochemically-derived plastics, made in C. necator. We are interested in improving polymer properties, measuring gene regulation during processes, and improving extraction of biopolymers using green approaches (funded by EU FP7 / BBSRC PhD studentship and in collaboration with industry). 
  • Magnetic nanoparticles are naturally generated by magnetotactic bacteria and allow them to sense the earth’s magnetic field. We are interested in engineering and manufacturing these particles for use in biotechnology and bioprocessing applications (funded by ERA-IB / BBSRC and in collaboration with industry).

Bacterial biofilms

Bacteria form biofilms, communities of cells immobilised onto surfaces by secreted polymeric substances, in many settings. Biofilms are typically tough and resistant to both physical removal and chemical treatment. This causes a problem in clinical and industrial settings, but we are also interested in how biofilms can be used as tough biocatalysts for production of fine chemicals. Within this area we investigate several approaches to understand how biofilms form and how we can interact with them.

  • We demonstrated that E. coli biofilms are tough and efficient biocatalysts for the production of pharmaceutical precursor molecules. We are interested in implementing biofilms as a platform for biocatalysis (funded by BBSRC). 
  • There is growing evidence that mechanosensing is an important part of biofilm formation. We are studying how mechanosensing influences the formation and development of E. coli biofilms (funded by BBSRC PhD studentship). 
  • The development of E. coli biofilms also relies upon sensing of physicochemical cues; understanding how these impact on biofilm formation and development is essential to understanding and preventing biofilm formation. 
  • In collaboration with Procter & Gamble we are working on biofilms in industrial settings, how to prevent their formation and how to remove biofilms that have already formed (funded by EPSRC CDT scheme). 
  • We are interested in novel approaches to biofilm formation, including using polymers to nucleate and drive biofilm generation (funded by BBSRC PhD studentship).

Microbes in processing streams   

Microbes are ubiquitous in nature, but it is essential that they are removed from the processing streams for a variety of products such as food and fast-moving consumer goods. We are interested in developing processes that remove microbes from these settings.

  • In collaboration with Colgate-Palmolive we are studying production of formulated products to improve robustness of formulations (funded by EPSRC CDT scheme).
  • Dairy processing requires removal of pathogens from milk to ensure product safety, but generates large quantities of waste materials. We developed methods to process waste streams to generate added value (funded by InnovateUK and in collaboration with industry).

Other activities

  • Member of the European Federation of Biotechnology executive board
  • Co-chair of the European Federation of Biotechnology Bioengineering & Bioprocessing section
  • Organiser of Applied Synthetic Biology in Europe conference series
  • Editorial board member for Biotechnology Letters
  • Refereeing for BMC Microbiology, FEMS Microbiology Letters, DNA Sequence, Powder Technology and the MRC and National Science Foundation
  • Peer review for FEBS Letters, Biotechnology Letters, BMC Microbiology, BMC Research Notes, FEMS Microbiology Letters, Powder Technology and DNA Sequence.
  • Grant application review for BBSRC, MRC and the National Science Foundation


Recent publications


Fernández-Castané, A, Li, H, Ebeler, M, Franzreb, M, Overton, T & Thomas, O 2024, 'A scalable biomanufacturing platform for bacterial magnetosomes', Food and Bioproducts Processing, vol. 144, FBP-D-23-00899, pp. 110-122. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbp.2024.01.005

Fallatah, H, Overton, T, Ali-Boucetta, H & Gkatzionis, K 2023, 'Impact of Environmental Stresses on the Antibacterial Activity of Graphene Oxide (GO) Nanoparticles against P. putida Biofilms', Microorganisms, vol. 11, no. 3, 609. https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms11030609

Zulkifly, A, Selas Castineiras, T & Overton, T 2023, 'Optimisation of recombinant TNFα production in Escherichia coli using GFP fusions and flow cytometry', Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, vol. 11, 1171823. https://doi.org/10.3389/fbioe.2023.1171823

Mahmoodi, N, Bazzoli, D, Overton, T & Mendes, P 2023, 'Plasma activation and its nanoconfinement effects boost surface anti-biofouling performance', Advanced Materials Interfaces, vol. 10, no. 6, 2202087. https://doi.org/10.1002/admi.202202087

Hothersall, J, Lai, S, Zhang, N, Godfrey, R, Ruanto, P, Bischoff, S, Robinson, C, Overton, T, Busby, S & Browning, D 2022, 'Inexpensive protein overexpression driven by the NarL transcription activator protein', Biotechnology and Bioengineering, vol. 119, no. 6, pp. 1614-1623. https://doi.org/10.1002/bit.28071

Hothersall, J, Osgerby, A, Godfrey, R, Overton, T, Busby, S & Browning, D 2022, 'New vectors for urea-inducible recombinant protein production', New Biotechnology, vol. 72, pp. 89-96. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbt.2022.10.003

Adoni, P, Romanyuk, A, Overton, T & Fernandez-Trillo, F 2022, 'Polymer-induced biofilms for enhanced biocatalysis', Materials Horizons, vol. 9, no. 10, pp. 2592-2602. https://doi.org/10.1039/D2MH00607C

Pasini, M, Fernández-Castané, A, Caminal, G, Overton, T & Ferrer, P 2022, 'Process Intensification at the expression system level for the production of 1-phosphate aldolase in antibiotic-free E. coli fed-batch cultures', Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology, vol. 49, no. 4, kuac018. https://doi.org/10.1093/jimb/kuac018

Masoura, M, Milner, M, Overton, T, Gkatzionis, K & Lund, P 2022, 'Use of transposon directed insertion-site sequencing to probe the antibacterial mechanism of a model honey on E. coli K-12', Frontiers in Microbiology, vol. 12, 803307. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2021.803307

Whittle, E, McNeil, H, Trampari, E, Webber, M, Overton, T & Blair, J 2021, 'Efflux Impacts Intracellular Accumulation Only in Actively Growing Bacterial Cells', mBio, vol. 12, no. 5, e02608-21. https://doi.org/10.1128/mBio.02608-21

Fernández-Castané, A, Li, H, Joseph, S, Ebeler, M, Franzreb, M, Bracewell, D, Overton, T & Thomas, O 2021, 'Nanoparticle tracking analysis as a process analytical tool for characterising magnetosome preparations', Food and Bioproducts Processing, vol. 127, pp. 426-434. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbp.2021.03.013


Fernandez-Trillo, F, Overton, T, Adoni, P & Huneidi, O Oct. 21 2021, Methods and Products, Patent No. WO2021209765A2. <https://patents.google.com/patent/WO2021209765A2/>


Whittle, E, Orababa, O, Element, S, Blair, J & Overton, T 2023 'Efflux pumps mediate changes to fundamental bacterial physiology via membrane potential' bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.04.03.535035

Review article

Osgerby, A & Overton, T 2023, 'Approaches for High-throughput Quantification of Periplasmic Recombinant Proteins', New Biotechnology, vol. 77, pp. 149-160. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbt.2023.09.003

Working paper

Adoni, P, Romanyuk, A, Overton, T & Fernandez-Trillo, F 2022 'Polymer-induced biofilms for enhanced biocatalysis' ChemRxiv, ChemRxiv. https://doi.org/10.26434/chemrxiv-2022-gh1x3

View all publications in research portal


Industrial microbiology, bioprocessing and biochemical engineering; recombinant protein production, biofilms and their uses; flow cytometry and FACS.