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PhD Studentship (4 years) - Microbial membrane engineering for biotechnology

School of Biosciences

Location:  Aston University Main Campus
Basis:  Full Time
Closing Date:  23.59 hours GMT on Sunday 10 January 2021
Reference:  R200311
Release Date:  Tuesday 10 November 2020

Supervisor: Dr Alan Goddard

Associate Supervisors: Professor Roslyn Bill

Project Reference: MIBTP_Goddard_Membrane

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Industrial Biotechnology

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

The global economy has an unsustainable dependence on fossil raw material and concerns about environmental sustainability are becoming more acute.  Biotechnological processes using microorganisms as cell factories to produce valuable compounds from renewable biomass are an attractive alternative, and an increasing number of platform and high-value chemicals are being produced at industrial scale using this strategy.  However, many microbial processes are not implemented at industrial level because the product yield is poorer and more expensive than achieved by chemical synthesis. 

It is well-established that microbes show stress responses during bioprocessing and one reason for poor product output from cell factories is production conditions that are ultimately toxic to the cells, often at the level of the cell membrane.   Examples of stresses that are demonstrably membrane-centric are solvents, e.g. butanol production by Clostridia and ethanol production by yeast, and weak acids such a lactic acid produced by bacteria.  This project will seek to alter the cell membrane of industrial microbes to increase tolerance to stresses during bioprocessing.  

The approach will use a powerful combination of in vitro assays, microbial cell culture, and ‘omics technologies to identify the molecular targets e.g. lipids and transporters.  Genetic engineering to create strains will be followed by strain characterisation to determine if the desired membrane alterations have been achieved and if tolerance to a particular stress (or stresses) has been increased.  Iterative design-build cycles will be undertaken as appropriate to further improve the strains.

This project would suit applicants with an interest in biophysics and biochemistry of the cell membrane and/or in microbial fermentations and industrial application of fundamental science.

Key references:

Mukhopadhyay, A., Tolerance engineering in bacteria for the production of advanced biofuels and chemicals. Trends in Microbiology, 2015. 23(8), 498-508.

Santoscoy, M. C., & Jarboe, L. R. (2019). Streamlined assessment of membrane permeability and its application to membrane engineering of Escherichia coli for octanoic acid tolerance. Journal of industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology, 46(6), 843-853.

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 Dr Alan Goddard at a.goddard@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 

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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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