Jo Nettleship

Really enjoyed the whole I'm a Scientist thing!

Favourite Thing: I love getting into the lab and helping other people make their experiments work. It’s great when a visitor gets good results because of the work we’ve done together.



Wales High School (South Yorkshire), Oxford University (1994-1998) and Bristol University (1998-2002)


MChem in Chemistry and PhD in Biological Chemistry

Work History:

Oxford Protein Production Facility

Current Job:

Senior Scientist


Oxford University

Me and my work

I make proteins to find out what they look like in minute detail.

I look at proteins which are involved in diseases and try to figure out what they look like and how they work.  Firstly, I take the gene or DNA which codes for the protein and then clone this.  I then use E. coli as a little factory to make lots and lots of my protein for me.  The next step is to separate the protein I want from all the other proteins that are in the E. coli.  When I have nice pure protein, I use this to make crystals and with these crystals you can use X-rays to find out what the protein looks like – it’s structure.  Here is a picture of the steps:


We work with many people from all over the UK to help them with this.  So I work on lots of different projects at the same time.  For example, a project on arthritis with scientists from Leeds, plant diseases with people from Norwich, breast cancer with scientists from London, antibodies with a group in Dundee…..   so I have to do a lot of project management!!  Some of these scientists come to visit us so I do a lot of teaching in the lab and even run courses, which I love.  The picture is from a course last year with students from all over Europe.


My Typical Day

Not many are the same: purify proteins, make DNA, grow cells, teach students!

If I’m purifying proteins, first thing in the morning I take the E. coli out of the freezer to defrost.  I also start up the purification machine because it needs 2 hours before it’s ready to use.  Then I have coffee and a chat.  After this I break the E. coli cells so that all the proteins come out.  You also get lots of DNA and fats which are in the cells.  I remove the lumpy bits by spinning the experiment really fast.  The protein is then left in the liquid at the top.  Next, I use the purification machine to separate my protein from the other E. coli proteins.  This is automatic so the machine does it for me.  Although after I have to make sure my protein is nice and pure so I do some analysis.

Protein purification machine


Protein analysis on a mass spectometer



What I'd do with the money

Make a “DNA” or “proteins” experiment kit for schools visits.

Most of the buildings on the campus where I work (Rutherford Appleton Labs in Oxfordshire) are full of friendly physicists and engineers.  When schools visit the campus, there isn’t any DNA or protein experiments for pupils to do.  I would like to change this by making up an experiment which can be run during school visits.  I’ll buy all the things needed for the experiment and put them in a kit for me and other scientists to use.

Ideas so far are:

Extracting DNA from strawberries – needs a hand blender, shampoo, methylated spirits, strawberries..

Making protein crystals from a protein found in eggs (lysozyme) – needs salt, vinegar, a microscope…

If you have any good ideas of experiments that you’d like to do, please tell me 🙂

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Friendly, fun and fantastic!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I’m liking Pharell Williams “Happy” but they’ve played it a too bit much on the radio now.

What's your favourite food?

Lemon chilli cake! I have an awesome recipe.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I went salsa dancing in Cuba for a week. Sun, mojitos and good moves. (Picture at the bottom)

What did you want to be after you left school?

I had no idea! I considered both Chemistry and Law to study at uni. Now I’m so glad I went with Chemistry.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

No, I was a goody-two shoes.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I liked practical things so Chemistry and Home Economics (Food technology).

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I’ve taught on a course in Hamburg, Germany. Great fun with a good bunch of people in an exciting city. In fact I’m going back there in September to teach again.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I love finding things out that no-one else knows.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Erm. Difficult one. I’ve considered science writing – like for New Scientist. I’ve also thought about running a pub, but I don’t think I’d like working late nights.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

To be happy. To be more confident. To keep dancing.

Tell us a joke.

Two parrots are sat on a perch. One says to the other “something smells fishy round here”

Other stuff

Work photos:

Working in the lab


(The yellow liquid contains a chemical called flavin adenine dinucleotide which is vitamin B2 with an extra chemical, ADP, attached.  This FAD reacts with many proteins).

The building where I work


Some cool robots I work with


Dancing and playing music in Cuba