PhD Studentship in Biotechnology/Synthetic Biology: Can Biochemists Make Green Perspex? Bio-Production of Methacrylate Esters

University of Nottingham - Engineering

Location: University Park

University of Nottingham, with Lucite International

The PhD challenge

Applications are invited from UK/EU students for an Industrial CASE studentship, co-sponsored by BBSRC and Lucite International. The project forms part of a large collaborative project to develop bio-based methylmethacrylate (MMA) using sustainable feedstocks, rather than relying on fossil fuels. Lucite is the world’s largest manufacturer of MMA, which is used as the monomer to manufacture Perspex and related polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA)-based materials and coatings. We have designed, constructed and tested metabolically engineered microorganisms to produce various candidate intermediate compounds for MMA production (see e.g., PCT/GB2014/052389), and Lucite has selected the most promising intermediate for future manufacturing. This intermediate compound is toxic towards the producing cells, and the cells are gradually poisoned as the product accumulates. Ultimately, production stops when the concentration reaches a “lethal threshold”. We have made a major breakthrough by isolating diverse product-resistant mutants of E. coli by accelerated laboratory evolution. The mutants have been sequenced, and contain different combinations of mutations in regulatory genes and/or structural genes. The aim of your project will be to identify the exact biological effects of the mutations, by using transcriptomics and deletion/overexpression, coupled with isolation/characterization of the mutant proteins, to determine the molecular basis of their enhanced function. New strains will also be constructed, containing different combinations of the mutant genes, to compare resistance with the existing mutants. The proteins with the greatest impact on resistance will be further improved by directed evolution. Finally, the best strains will be tested for bio-production of the intermediate in small scale fed-batch/continuous bioprocesses.

The studentship

The project will be co-supervised by Prof. Gill Stephens, Dr Ian Kerr, and Dr Luca Rossoni, with Dr Graham Eastham at Lucite as the industrial supervisor. Applicants should have or expect to obtain a first or upper second undergraduate degree or MSc with distinction (or EU equivalents) in Microbiology, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, or a related discipline. This 4 year project is co-funded by BBSRC and Lucite, and provides for tuition fees at UK/EU rates and a stipend (£14,553 for 2017/2018 paid monthly). The basic stipend will be enhanced by £2500 per year. EU applicants should note that the studentship is not affected by “Brexit” and the stipend is available to EU students for the full four years. You will be part of the Biorenewables and Bioprocessing group in the Faculty of Engineering and the membrane transport group in the School of Life Sciences, working in laboratories fully equipped for molecular biology, membrane protein biochemistry, fermentation technology and analytical chemistry.

For further information, please contact Prof. Gill Stephens, Dr Ian Kerr, Dr Luca Rossoni or Dr Graham Eastham.

Applications should be emailed to Prof. Gill Stephens, and should include a brief covering letter explaining your interest in the project and a curriculum vitae, including the names and contact details of 3 referees.

Please note, these projects are not available for self-funded students or students with alternative sources of funding. The closing date is 21st August 2017, for the project to start in October 2017.

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Midlands of England