PhD Studentship: Chemical Biology on the Genome

University of Cambridge - Department of Chemistry

Applications are invited for a 4-year PhD studentship in the group led by Professor Shankar Balasubramanian, on a project which is multidisciplinary, exploiting both chemistry and biology to address fundamental mechanisms of genome function.  While many genetic determinants of cancer are known, the presence of alternative nucleic acid structures and/or chemical modifications to nucleic acid bases are increasingly being recognised as important factors in oncogenesis.  We are seeking an enthusiastic PhD student who is motivated to tackle an exciting project in one of our two primary areas of research.  The first is focused on the biological role of non-canonical structures in DNA and RNA, in particular G-quadruplexes.  We are exploring G-quadruplex structure formation in the genome and transcriptome of normal and cancer cells and how this influences key processes from gene expression and RNA function to DNA replication and genome stability.  Our chemical biology approach integrates molecular genomics and chemistry and aims to identify nucleic acid structures as targets for future drug development.  The second area investigates chemical modifications of nucleic acid bases and builds on our expertise in inventing methods for genetic analysis, such as Solexa/Illumina next-generation sequencing.  Our lab investigates how these modifications affect epigenome function and builds on our expertise in inventing new methods for genetic analysis, such as Solexa/Illumina next-generation sequencing.  To enable the understanding of the biological roles of cytosine methylation and its derivatives, such as 5-hydroxymethylcytosine or 5-formylcytosine, we have developed techniques to quantitatively sequence these modifications at single base pair resolution (Science 2012, 336, 934-7, Nature Chemistry 2014, 6, 435-440).  We use these methods, together with high sensitivity liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, to explore the dynamics and functions of cytosine base modification during development and in cancer (e.g. Nature Chemistry 2014, 6, 1049-55, Nature Chemical Biology 2015, 11, 555-7).

Applicants must have (or expect to obtain) at least the equivalent of a UK upper second class honours degree (and preferably a Masters) in a chemical or biological discipline that is relevant to the project. Ideally, the candidate will have a strong background in organic chemistry and/or chemical biology.  A good knowledge of nucleic acid chemistry and/or molecular biology methods is desirable. The student must be highly motivated, capable of independent thought, and have excellent communication skills with the ability to work collaboratively.

The studentship provides a maintenance grant and tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. Owing to funding restrictions the studentship is not available to non-EU nationals.

To apply for this vacancy, please email a cover letter, CV, detailed academic transcripts and the contact details for at least two academic referees to:  Jo Lockhart, PA to Professor Balasubramanian (email:  Please include your first name and last name in the title of all attached files. Your cover letter should explain why you wish to be considered for the studentship and describe the qualities and experience you will bring to the role.

If you wish to be considered for any other scholarships in the Department of Chemistry you must also apply online by 15 November 2016 via the University Applicant Portal and complete the Chemistry Department Application form (Biological RIG) (

For queries regarding the post, please contact Jo Lockhart (email:

Please quote reference MA10436 on your application and in any correspondence about this vacancy.

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