Fergus is presented with the 2017 IUPAC-Solvay International Award for Young Chemists


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Many congratulations to Dr Fergus Poynton, who was presented with the IUPAC-Solvay International Award for Young Chemists by the president of IUPAC, Natalia Tarasova at the opening ceremony of the 46th World Chemistry Congress  last week. The acclaimed award is given each year to the best PhD theses in the chemical sciences worldwide, and Fergus received it alongside the remainder of the winners from both 2016 and 2017.

The week-long conference was held in São Paulo, Brazil, and included other such highlights as lectures by Nobel laureates Ada Yonath, Fraser Stoddart and Robert Huber, along with a series of symposia on Environmental Chemistry, ‘Big Data’, and Women in Chemistry.

Fergus received the 2016 Royal Irish Academy Young Chemists Prize in June for his doctoral thesis “Spectroscopic Investigations into the Excited-State Processes and Reactivity of Ruthenium(II) Polypyridyl Complexes”.


New paper on DNA-targeting phototherapeutic drugs published in Chem. Eur. J.

Congratulations to Fergus and Bjørn on their recent paper in Chemistry a European Journal titled Inosine can increase DNA’s susceptibility to photo-oxidation by a Ru(II) complex due to structural change in the minor groove. Key to the development of DNA-targeting phototherapeutic drugs is determining the interplay between the photoactivity of the drug and its binding preference for a target sequence. In this work, the photoactivity of Λ-[Ru(TAP)2(dppz)]2+ and its binding to oligonucleotides was studied, showing enhanced photo-oxidation when guanine is substituted with inosine, in spite of inosine being less easily oxidised. The work has been performed in collaboration with Prof. Susan Quinn of University College Dublin, Páraic Keane and Prof. Christine Cardin of the University of Reading, Prof. John Kelly from Trinity College Dublin and groups at the Diamond Light Source and Rutherford Appleton Laboratories in England.


Structural features of the interaction of the Ru(II) complex with two different DNA sequences.

TG Group say farewell to Salvador and Sandra

Dr. Sandra Bright and Dr. Salvador Blasco had their last day in the TG Group and were given a fond farewell by current members at specially organised lunches.

Sandra was the group’s biochemist who investigated group member’s compound’s biological activity for cancer treatment and signalling in the development of cancer therapeutic agents.

Salvador was the group’s resident crystallographer for a time and a post-doc with an indispensible expertise in electrochemistry Ru(II) polypyridyl chemistry, very much involved in the work of PhD students, Bjorn and Sandra, having also collaborated closely with Prof. Clive Williams in the Department of Biochemistry, TCD. He has contributed to the wealth of the group’s research with many publications including Chemical Science,2014,  6 (1), 457-471 (DOI: 10.1039/C4SC02474E ) and Angew.Chem. Int.Ed. 2016, 55,8938 –8943  (DOI: 10.1002/anie.201603213 )

We wish them all the best with their future endeavors.


Fergus, Thorri and John publish in Chemical Science

The article entitled “Direct Observation by Time-resolved Infrared Spectroscopy of the Bright and the Dark Excited States of the [Ru(phen)2(dppz)]2+ Light-switch Compound in Solution and when Bound to DNA” by Fergus Poynton, Thorfinnur Gunnlaugsson and John Kelly came out in Chemical Science at the start 0f 2016 and describes the “light-switch” effect of the highly topical [Ru(phen)2(dppz)]2+  compound as a DNA binding probe.

Graphical Abstract

Graphical Abstract

DOI: 10.1039/C5SC04514B

Ru(II)-polypyridyl surface functionalized gold nano-particles – publication in Nanoscale

aunpTG group has in collaboration with Clive Williams’ team (School of Biochemistry) published an article in Nanoscale entitled “Ru(II)-polypyridyl surface functionalized gold nano-particles; A biological perspective” where we profiled the biological activity and cellular uptake of 15 nm gold nanoparticles. Authors include Miguel Martínez-Calvo, Kim N. Orange, Robert B. P. Elmes, Bjørn la Cour Poulsen, D. Clive Williams and Thorfinnur Gunnlaugsson.

TG Group members published in Nature Chemistry

Research carried out by a team including TG Group member Fergus Poynton was published recently in Nature Chemistry. The group of scientists have developed a new technique for looking at the initial steps of DNA oxidation – a process which can lead to DNA damage, mutations and cancers. The breakthrough, which uses DNA in crystals, should help related research in the fields of cancer medicine and drug development.


This work is a collaboration between teams in UCD (led by Dr Susan Quinn) and Trinity College Dublin (led by Professor John Kelly), the University of Reading (led by Professor Christine Cardin, whose BBSRC funded postdoctoral fellow Dr James Hall carried out the crystal growth, sample preparation and sample validation) and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (Professor Mike Towrie).

This paper presents the first study of the initial steps of DNA oxidation in crystals. Oxidation of DNA can lead to DNA damage, mutations and cancer and is therefore an extremely active area of research across many scientific disciplines. In this study a ruthenium complex, which has been shown to oxidise DNA when irradiated with light, was crystallised bound to DNA. We have previously demonstrated that when cancer cells are treated with this complex and irradiated with light, the cancer cells undergo cell death, showing the potential of this class of molecule in anti-cancer therapies.

The majority of studies of the interactions of small molecules with DNA are carried out in solution, where there are numerous ways by which these molecules can bind to DNA. This ambiguity complicates interpretation of results and poses a significant challenge to investigators. In this study however, the precise location of the complex bound to DNA is clearly defined in the crystal, therefore removing this uncertainty. This technique has the potential use in the study of other such systems looking at drug-DNA interactions and also looking at photo-damage of DNA associated with UV exposure.

Professor John Kelly from the School of Chemistry at Trinity College Dublin said: “This is an important step in our collaborative work to understand the action of DNA-targeting compounds when they are taken up by cancer cells. Professor Thorri Gunnlaugsson and Professor Clive Williams’ teams at Trinity have previously shown that related compounds can kill such cells when irradiated with visible light.”

The Irish teams have extensive experience in the ultrafast study of DNA, while the Reading group is a world-leader in the X-ray crystallographic analysis of DNA using the Diamond facility. The Rutherford group in the Central Laser Facility has developed extremely sensitive systems for the study of such ultra-fast chemical reactions (as low as a millionth-millionth of a second.).

The work has been supported by SFI/IRC (to Professor Gunnlaugsson) and the BBSRC and a key element of the funding for the collaboration has been provided by the Royal Irish Academy-Royal Society exchange programme.

TG Group anti-cancer research featured in Irish Times Magazine

Trojan horse is activated by beam of light

As part of the inaugural TBSI-Weizmann joint meeting, July 27-29 2014, attended by 600 delegates including a number of Nobel laureates, a special supplement to the Irish Times was produced, showcasing some of the cutting-edge research underway in both institutions.

An article on ruthenium-based anti-cancer research in the group featured in this special supplement describing the ‘Trojan horse’ strategy for these light-activated agents.