Tanmay Bharat

2024 United Kingdom Award Finalist — Faculty

Tanmay Bharat

Current Position:
Programme Leader

MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

Molecular & Cellular Biology

Recognized for: Developing cutting-edge techniques in electron cryotomography (cryo-ET) to create atomic-level pictures of cell-surface molecules produced by microscopic bacteria and archaea, as they form multicellular communities including biofilms and microbiomes. Bharat’s work has important biomedical implications, as most pathogenic bacteria infect humans through biofilm formation, but it also has implications for the fundamental understanding of the dynamics of cell-to-cell interactions that led to the evolution of multicellular life on Earth.


Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Structural Biology, Microbiology, Multicellular Prokaryotes, Electron Tomography, Biofilms

Previous Positions: 

  • BSc, University of Delhi, India
  • BA, University of Oxford
  • PhD, EMBL Heidelberg and University of Heidelberg, Germany (Advisor: John Briggs)
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, EMBL Heidelberg, Germany (Advisor: John Briggs)
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (Advisor: Jan Löwe)
  • Group Leader, Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, University of Oxford

Research Summary: 

Although bacteria and archaea are classically considered single-cell organisms, they commonly assemble in complex multicellular communities. Some of these communities, such as bacterial biofilms, are biomedically important, as they are often associated with antibiotic-resistant human infections. However, relatively little is understood about how these multicellular communities are formed and maintained.

Microbiologist Tanmay Bharat, PhD, has developed and applied cutting-edge electron cryotomography (cryo-ET) techniques to solve atomic-level structures of nanometer-scale surface molecules directly from bacterial and archaeal cells. This work has revealed novel structural details and has shown how surface molecules are crucial in mediating cell-to-cell interactions that promote the formation of antibiotic-resistant biofilms and the formation of diverse microbial communities.

Bharat has resolved atomic structures of numerous proteins on the surface of bacteria and archaea, uncovering a surprising similarity of these proteins to antibodies from the immune system. These antibody-like proteins are known to be crucial for bacteria and archaea to differentiate between the same (“self”) species and other (“non-self”) species. Interestingly, Bharat has shown that such proteins are widespread across microbes, suggesting that these represent primordial recognition systems that may have been precursors to modern immune systems, which require distinguishing “self” from “non-self” entities to clear infections.

Bharat’s techniques in cryo-ET are at the leading edge of the technology, allowing researchers to perform structural analyses of individual molecules and structures in their native environment inside cells and tissues. This work has informed our fundamental understanding of microbial interactions and has been extended to reveal potential therapeutic avenues for inhibiting biofilm formation and for the production of synthetic biomaterials.

"I am delighted to be selected as a finalist for the UK Blavatnik award. I have long admired all previous honourees. This recognition is a testament to the hard work of colleagues in my lab – a big thanks to them."

Key Publications: 

  1. A. von Kügelgen, H. Tang, G.G. Hardy, D. Kureisaite-Ciziene, Y.V. Brun, P.J. Stansfeld, C.V. Robinson, T.A.M. Bharat. In Situ Structure of an Intact Lipopolysaccharide-Bound Bacterial Surface Layer. Cell, 2020.
  2. A.K. Tarafder, A. Von Kügelgen, A. J. Mellul, U. Schulze, D. G. Aarts, T.A.M. Bharat. Phage liquid crystalline droplets form occlusive sheaths that encapsulate and protect infectious rod-shaped bacteria. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2020.
  3. C.E. Melia, J.R. Bolla, D.B. Mihaylov, P.C. Hoffmann, J. Huo, M.R. Wozny, L.M. Elfari, J. Böhning, A.N. Morgan, C. J. Hitchman, R. J. Owens, C. V. Robinson, G. A. O’ Toole, T.A.M. Bharat. Architecture of cell–cell junctions in situ reveals a mechanism for bacterial biofilm inhibition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021.
  4. A. von Kügelgen, S. van Dorst, K. Yamashita, D.L. Sexton, E.I. Tocheva, G. Murshudov, V. Alva, T.A.M. Bharat. Interdigitated immunoglobulin arrays form the hyperstable surface layer of the extremophilic bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2023.

Other Honors: 

2013 Bayer Pharmaceuticals Promotionspreis (Best PhD Thesis), German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 
2017 Sir Henry Dale Fellowship, Royal Society and Wellcome Trust 
2018 International Prize Scholar, Vallee Foundation 
2019 John Kendrew Award, EMBL Heidelberg 
2020 Young Investigator Award, EMBO 
2020 Philip Leverhulme Prize in the Biological Sciences, Leverhulme Trust 
2021 Young European Investigator Award, Eppendorf 
2021 Lister Prize, Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine 
2022 Colworth Medal, The Biochemical Society 
2023  Fleming Prize, The Microbiology Society 


In the Media:

Astrobiology – Elucidation of the Structure of the Surface Layer of Deinococcus Radiodurans, The Toughest Bacterium Known

Cystic Fibrosis TrustResearch Blast on Pseudomonas

Action Medical Research CharityCystic Fibrosis: Improving Treatment For Lung Infections