Professor Kenneth McDowall


I am a Professor in Molecular Microbiology and currently serve as the University Dean: Student Education (Portfolio and Curriculum) and Academic Lead for Curriculum Redefined, the University’s flagship teaching enhancement project.  Throughout my career I have contributed successfully to research, teaching and academic service.  I started in Leeds as a Royal Society University Research Fellow following postdoctoral research in the US funded by a personal fellowship from SERC & NATO and, within the Faculty of Biological Sciences, have served as the leader of a disciplinary research area (Genetics and Genomics), Director of Student Education and Pro-Dean of Student Education.

In both of my current University roles, I make a substantial contribution to the achievement of high-level strategic goals with clear inputs and outputs that have contributed to the effectiveness, developement and sustainability of student education.  I continue to contribute to the academic mission of my school: I have always been returned in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and contribute to teaching and learning as a lecturer, project supervisor and module leader.

As a Pro-Dean, I was one of the principal architects of FBS Refresh, a University-backed change programme (initiated in Nov. 2019) that successfully engaged academics in delivering greater academic and financial sustainability to the Faculty by focussing teaching and research in areas of strength and demand.  I led on the student education side of the academic vision and action plan, which were delivered within the original timeframe, despite the impact of Covid.  FBS Refresh has transformed the academic and financial prospects of the Faculty and is regarded as an exemplar of partnership working.

My approach to leadership ensured FBS Refresh was highly collaborative, collegiate and underpinned by a solid platform of data and information produced in partnership with Marketing, Finance, and Strategy & Planning. I was proactive in benchmarking against other universities, defined the evaluative criteria for student education, and led discussions on the development of the taught portfolio with special consideration of the international market.

When appointed Dean: Portfolio and Curriculum (April, 2020), I established strategically focussed working groups, whilst contributing to the writing of the business case for CR and empowering others to join the programme and contribute in partnership.  My thinking extended beyond the curriculum and pedagogy to the management of the University’s portfolio of taught programmes, the structuring and timetabling of programmes, and the resourcing of teaching.

Cr overview

My leadership of the substantial work that ensued is having substantial impact, e.g. increased capacity and capability to reform pedagogy and assessment and explore new courses beyond traditional degrees and disciplinary boundaries, and resource savings that will allow further investment in student education, and research and innovation.

In relation to my research, I have on two occasions been elected as the co-Chair of a FASEB summer research conference and hosted several international exchange visits.  Aspects of my research has been highlighted on the webpages of the BBSRC, a major agency investing in bioscience research and training in the UK.  I continue to remain research active through collaborations, and have been a member of the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology since its formation.

I have served as an external examiner for PhDs in the UK and beyond and as a member of the Genes panel of the Biochemical Society.  I am invited on a regular basis to review manuscripts for internationally renowned publishing houses and journals such as Nature, EMBO and PNAS, and funding bodies such as the BBSRC, MRC, NSF and EU. 

In addition to obtaining grant and fellowship funding, I was one of the two main writers of a successful €2.35 million bid to the Euro Commission (EC) under Framework 6 to support “early stage training”.  In addition to training PhD and Masters students, the programme resulted in new research collaborations, and produced several papers submitted as part of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), which saw the Faculty highly ranked in the UK by the leading scientific journal Nature.





  • Dean: Student Education (Portfolio & Curriculum)
  • Academic Lead for Curriculum Redefined

Research interests

Structural and functional analysis of RNA decay

The cellular level of RNA transcripts is a major determinant of gene expression in all living organisms, and is controlled as much by the process of RNA decay as the initiation of transcription. Much of our work in this area focuses on RNase E, an E. coli endoribonuclease that initiates the decay of many if not most transcripts, is required for rRNA processing, and is evolutionarily conserved. The functions of RNaseE also extend far beyond that of a simple ribonuclease: it serves as a platform upon which other enzymes involved in E. coli RNA decay assembly to form a complex called the RNA degradosome. One of the major challenges is to determine the relationship between the functions of the individual components and their close physical association. 


Leaderless translation

In collaboration with Dr. Ryan Seipke studying the biology of “leaderless” translation in the Streptomycetes, which are mycelial prokaryotes that respond to environmental stress by producing survival spores via a complex development pathway and by synthesising complex macromolecular compounds many of which have been found to have antimicrobial activity. We are taking a genome-wide approach to understand the place and nature of “leaderless” within the context of biotechnological applications as well as the wider biology.  

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • Postdoctoral Research Certificate, Stanford University, 1995
  • PhD, University of Glasgow, 1991
  • BSc (Hons), University of Edinburgh, 1988

Student education

Undergraduate project topics:

  • The human gut microbiome in relation to health and disease;  alternative and complementary approaches to antibiotic therapy

Postgraduate studentship areas:

  • We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study in areas related to those described above. Our research opportunities allow you to search for projects and scholarships.

Research groups and institutes

  • Structural Biology

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>