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PhD Studentship in Supramolecular Chemistry - Self-Replicating Molecules

University of Bristol - School of Chemistry

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Bristol
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £14,777 p.a. + UK/EU tuition fees
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 11th December 2018
Closes: 7th March 2019

The project:

Applications are invited for a PhD studentship starting in October 2019 to work with Prof. Tony Davis. The project is related to the origin of life, one of the major unsolved scientific problems. It is clear that present-day life results from Darwinian evolution. However, evolution requires species (presumably molecules) capable of “informational self-replication” (ISR) – they exist in many different forms (i.e. contain information), and each of these can reproduce itself. Nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) can do this under certain conditions, but we have no other examples. Moreover there are good reasons to think that nucleic acids were not the first informational self-replicators. They are complicated molecules, and it’s hard to imagine that they could appear spontaneously from a complex mixture of prebiotic chemicals. Also, when a nucleic acid copies itself it forms a strongly bound double-helical structure, so that further copying is inhibited. We suspect that there may have been an earlier, simpler set of ISR molecules capable of operating in the messy prebiotic environment and beginning the process of evolution. Specifically, we believe that certain peptides might be able to self-associate and catalyse their own reproduction while coding and transferring information. This project involves the exploration of models of this process, potentially leading to a system capable of evolution and a credible hypothesis for a key step in the origin of life. The student will receive a training in synthetic supramolecular chemistry with particular focus on peptide chemistry, as well as binding and kinetic studies.

How to apply:

Please make an online application for this project at  Please select Chemistry (PhD) on the Programme Choice page.  You will be prompted to enter details of the studentship in the Funding and Research Details sections of the form.

Candidate requirements:  Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK first degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.

Funding: A full studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees, a training support fee and a stipend (£14,777 p.a. for 2018/19, updated each year) for 3 years and 6 months. Applicants who are classed as Overseas for tuition fee purposes may be considered if they can supply the difference between UK/EU and Overseas fees.

Contacts: We encourage you to make an informal enquiry to Prof Davis ( if you have any queries or would like to discuss projects.

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