Rory Duncan


+44 (0)131 451 3414
Room F10 John Muir Building Heriot-Watt University
Roles and responsibilities

Senior Academic Lead for Strategy and Development, Heriot-Watt University


Our research focuses on the process of exocytosis (secretion) in cells. This is central to normal physiology, as it is the only way cells in the body communicate with each other. The proteins involved have been well described, in both neurons (for neurotransmission) and neuroendocrine cells (for hormone secretion, such as insulin), but the spatio-temporal dynamics of the process in cells remain speculative.

We apply advanced imaging approaches (TIRFM, TCSPC-FLIM, FCS, PALM) to address these questions. By using fluorescent fusion proteins, expressed in living neurons or neuroendocrine model cells, we are able to quantify the localisations, interactions, conformations and concentrations of large cohorts of single molecules or organelles. The combination of molecular imaging, in vitro biochemistry, cell culture with these imaging approaches provides a uniquely powerful set of tools to probe cell biology.

These techniques generate an enormous volume of quantitative data. We collaborate with colleagues in the departments of physics, chemistry and mathematics as part of the wider 'Life Science Interface Theme' in Heriot-Watt University ( This programme aims to foster inter-disciplinary collaboration, and is centred on our extremely well-equipped and funded laboratories in the Perking Building. Current active funding (2011) is from The Wellcome Trust, The MRC, The Royal Society and the STFC, supporting around 11 researchers in the Life Science Interface Laboratory.

For further details please see the Life Science Interface Laboratory webpages.

Selected publications

A catch-and-release approach to selective modification of accessible tyrosine residues.

Allan C, Kosar M, Burr CV, Mackay CL, Duncan RR, Hulme AN. ChemBioChem. 2018 Sep 13. doi: 10.1002/cbic.201800532. [Epub ahead of print]. Link

EnLightenment: High resolution smartphone microscopy as an educational and public engagement platform.

Wicks LC, Cairns GS, Melnyk J, Bryce S, Duncan RR, Dalgarno PA. Wellcome Open Res. 2017 Nov 6;2:107. doi: 10.12688/wellcomeopenres.12841.2. eCollection 2017. Link


Cylindrical microlensing for enhanced collection efficiency of small pixel SPAD arrays in single-molecule localisation microscopy.

Gyongy I, Davies A, Gallinet B, Dutton NAW, Duncan RR, Rickman C, Henderson RK, Dalgarno PA. Opt Express. 2018 Feb 5;26(3):2280-2291. doi: 10.1364/OE.26.002280. Link


Glyoxal as an alternative fixative to formaldehyde in immunostaining and super-resolution microscopy.

Richter KN, Revelo NH, Seitz KJ, Helm MS, Sarkar D, Saleeb RS, D'Este E, Eberle J, Wagner E, Vogl C, Lazaro DF, Richter F, Coy-Vergara J, Coceano G, Boyden ES, Duncan RR, Hell SW, Lauterbach MA, Lehnart SE, Moser T, Outeiro TF, Rehling P, Schwappach B, Testa I, Zapiec B, Rizzoli SO. EMBO J. 2018 Jan 4;37(1):139-159. doi: 10.15252/embj.201695709. Epub 2017 Nov 16. Link


SAF-A Regulates Interphase Chromosome Structure through Oligomerization with Chromatin-Associated RNAs.

Nozawa RS, Boteva L, Soares DC, Naughton C, Dun AR, Buckle A, Ramsahoye B, Bruton PC, Saleeb RS, Arnedo M, Hill B, Duncan RR, Maciver SK, Gilbert N. Cell. 2017 Jun 15;169(7):1214-1227.e18. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.05.029. Link


Navigation through the Plasma Membrane Molecular Landscape Shapes Random Organelle Movement.

Dun AR, Lord GJ, Wilson RS, Kavanagh DM, Cialowicz KI, Sugita S, Park S, Yang L, Smyth AM, Papadopulos A, Rickman C, Duncan RR. Curr Biol. 2017 Feb 6;27(3):408-414. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.12.002. Epub 2017 Jan 12. Link


Tryptophan and Non-Tryptophan Fluorescence of the Eye Lens Proteins Provides Diagnostics of Cataract at the Molecular Level.

Gakamsky A, Duncan RR, Howarth NM, Dhillon B, Buttenschön KK, Daly DJ, Gakamsky D. Sci Rep. 2017 Jan 10;7:40375. doi: 10.1038/srep40375. Link


Bimodal dynamics of granular organelles in primary renin-expressing cells revealed using TIRF microscopy.

Buckley C, Dun AR, Peter A, Bellamy C, Gross KW, Duncan RR, Mullins JJ. Am J Physiol Renal Physiol. 2017 Jan 1;312(1): F200-F209. doi: 10.1152/ajprenal.00384.2016. Epub 2016 Nov 9. Link

Smart-aggregation imaging for single molecule localisation with SPAD cameras.

Gyongy I, Davies A, Dutton NA, Duncan RR, Rickman C, Henderson RK, Dalgarno PA. Sci Rep. 2016 Nov 23;6:37349. doi: 10.1038/srep37349. Link


Automated single particle detection and tracking for large microscopy datasets.

Wilson RS, Yang L, Dun A, Smyth AM, Duncan RR, Rickman C, Lu W. R Soc Open Sci. 2016 May 18;3(5):160225. doi: 10.1098/rsos.160225. eCollection 2016 May. Link


Rory Duncan was founding Head of the Institute of Biological chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering at Heriot-Watt University, applying advances in EPS to life science challenges. He is PI and Co-Director of the Edinburgh super-resolution imaging consortium (ESRIC, with support from MRC/BBSRC/EPSRC and the Wellcome Trust, developing and applying super-resolution imaging modalities. This programme of work was awarded the Times Higher ‘STEM Research Project of the Year 2018/18’.

Rory’s work spans many Disciplines and he has publications in leading biology, chemistry, engineering and physics journals, and he holds multiple patents. Rory sits on as is ad hoc Chair of STFC Science Board, the principal scientific advisory committee providing strategic oversight on all research activities for that Research Council and is part of the Accelerator International Strategic Review Panel, shaping strategy for the next 25 years. He is a member of the Scottish Parliamentary Cross-Party Group for Life Sciences.

Rory has won several awards for science communication and was awarded the Royal Society of Edinburgh Senior Medal for Public Engagement in 2018 for his ‘passion and enormously productive advocacy for public engagement in Scotland, the UK and internationally’. His current role is as Senior Academic Lead for Strategy and Development for Heriot-Watt University as well as of Academic Lead for Public Engagement with Research. In the latter role, Rory holds external funds to develop public engagement strategy for the university with an emphasis on community engagement and embedding public engagement in university culture.