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PhD Studentship (4 years) - In-depth structural characterization of the tetraspanin CD81

School of Biosciences

Location:  Aston University Main Campus
Basis:  Full Time
Closing Date:  23.59 hours GMT on Sunday 10 January 2021
Reference:  R200310
Release Date:  Tuesday 10 November 2020

Supervisor: Professor Roslyn Bill

Associate Supervisors: Dr Alice Rothnie and Dr John Simms

Project Reference: MIBTP_Bill_Tetraspanin

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Structural Biology, Ageing

Applications are invited for four year Postgraduate studentships, supported by the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership (MIBTP) and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). Up to 6 studentships are available.

The studentships are available to start in October 2021. 

Financial Support

The studentships include a fee bursary to cover the Home fees rate, plus a tax free stipend of at least £15,285 p.a (to rise in line with UKRI recommendation).

Overseas Applicants

Overseas applicants may apply for this studentship, and the home fees rate will be covered. UKRI funding will not cover the difference between UK tuition fees and international tuition fees; international tuition fee payers will be required to fund the fee difference themselves. MIBTP encourages international students with existing sources of funding (e.g. fellowships) to apply. The difference between home and international fees is £13,443 in 2020/21. Please confirm in your application how you will fund the fee difference."

Background to the Studentship

All MIBTP scholars will join a programme of skills training in year 1. Applicants are required to select an area of study (Sustainable Agriculture and Food, Understanding the Rules of Life, Renewable Resources and Clean Growth or Integrated Understanding of Health) but may join the programme with or without selecting a preferred project. Part of the skills training programme includes short rotation projects and students are able to choose a PhD project once they have experienced these differing research environments.

Potential PhD projects are provided to give applicants an idea of the breadth of research within MIBTP and specific research topics at Aston University. You can browse the other projects available here. Additional projects will become available during Year 1 and students can work with potential supervisors during their first year to develop a particular project.

Project Outline

CD81 is a member of the tetraspanin family of membrane proteins that have broad biological and medical importance. CD81 is involved in cell-cell adhesion, cell proliferation, the immune response, fertilization and infection by several important human pathogens including influenza, HIV, the malarial plasmodium parasite and hepatitis C virus (HCV). CD81 forms diverse, incompletely-understood associations with other proteins in cell membranes: the oligomeric status of CD81 within these complexes, the role of its interactions with specific lipids and the mechanistic detail of how CD81 exerts its biological function are not known.

The CD81 crystal structure identifies a cholesterol-binding pocket; cholesterol binding appears to modulate CD81 activity in cells and has been suggested as a potential mechanism for the regulation of tetraspanin function prompting a need to understand the role of the membrane lipid environment in CD81 folding and function.

We have initiated biophysical and molecular modelling studies of recombinant CD81 that has been extracted in either detergent or styrene maleic acid co-polymer. The latter enables us to understand the importance of the lipid context. Our antibody panel will enable us to identify the structural context of native CD81 oligomers, bridging the resolution gap between the structural and cell biology of CD81. Characterizing the structure of CD81 in this depth will establish a framework to address fundamental questions about tetraspanins in health and disease.

Ayub H, Clare M, Milic I, Chmel NP, Böning H, Devitt A, Krey T, Bill RM, Rothnie AJ: CD81 extracted in SMALP nanodiscs comprises two distinct protein populations within a lipid environment enriched with negatively charged headgroups, Biochim Biophys Acta Biomembr, 2020, 1862(11):183419.

Grove J, Hu K, Farquhar MF, Goodall M, Jamshad M, Drummer HE, Bill RM, Balfe P and McKeating JA: A new panel of epitope mapped monoclonal antibodies recognising the prototypical tetraspanin CD81, Wellcome Open Res, 2017, 2:82.

Person Specification

The successful applicant should have been awarded, or expect to achieve, a Masters degree in a relevant subject with a 60% or higher weighted average, and/or a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree (or an equivalent qualification from an overseas institution) in a relevant subject. Full entry requirements for Aston University can be found on our website.

Evidence of quantitative training is required. For example, AS or A level Maths, IB Standard or Higher Maths, or university level maths/statistics course. Full entry requirements for MIBTP can be found on their website.

Contact information

For further information on the advertised project, please contact Prof Roslyn Bill at r.m.bill@aston.ac.uk

Submitting an application

In order to apply for the MIBTP PhD studentship you must:

  1. Check your eligibility. 
  2. Complete a PhD application form on the Aston University website. From the drop-down options select School of Life and Health Sciences; October; Full time; Postgraduate Research; “Research Biomedical Sciences October 2021 Entry (Full-time)”.
  3. Notify MIBTP of your application by completing the online notification form; ensuring that you upload a current CV to the form.
  4. Review the MIBTP Data Privacy Policy to understand how we process your personal data.


 When completing the Aston University application form, you will need to ensure to include the following documents:

  • Copies of your academic qualifications for your Bachelor degree, and Masters degree (if studied); this should include both certificates and transcripts, and must be translated in to English.
  • A personal statement*
  • A copy of your current CV
  • Two academic references
  • Proof of your English Language proficiency for non-Native English speakers, further details can be found on our website

*Please note that a project proposal is not required, however your Personal Statement should address your ability & knowledge of the research area.  Where applying for a specific project, please include the supervisor name, project title and project reference in your Personal Statement. 

If you require further information about the application process please contact the Postgraduate Admissions team at pgr_admisssions@aston.ac.uk 

Email details to a friend

Further particulars and application forms are available in alternative formats on request i.e. large print, Braille, tape or CD Rom.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact HR via recruitment@aston.ac.uk


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