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PhD Studentship in Cell and Molecular Biosciences: Studying iron acquisition by keystone members of the human microbiota

Newcastle University - Faculty of Medical Sciences, Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: UK/EU tuition fees paid and annual living expenses of £15,009 (full award)
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 6th March 2019
Closes: 15th May 2019

Value of award

100% of UK/EU tuition fees paid and annual living expenses of £15,009 (full award). Successful international candidates will be required to make up the difference between the UK/EU fees and international fees.

Number of awards


Start date and duration

23 September 2019 for 3 years.

Application closing date

15 May 2019.


Do you want to work in one of the hottest fields in microbiology and are you interested in how our microbiota functions and contributes to human health? This project will advance our understanding how keystone Gram-negative members of the human microbiota acquire iron. Iron is an essential element for all forms of life due to its important role in many enzymes and metabolic processes. However, the bioavailability of iron is very limited due to its low solubility and the ability of the free metal to generate harmful reactive oxygen species. For this reason, bacteria have evolved sophisticated mechanisms to acquire iron, for example from their host. One example in the gut bacterium Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron and the oral pathogen Porphyromonas gingivalis is the hemophore HmuY, which is a cell surface protein that binds heme via a novel mechanism and most likely transfers it to the co-transcribed HmuR membrane transporter for uptake across the outer membrane.

The structure of the HmuYR complex, and consequently the way it functions, are not known. This project will aim to solve the structure of the HmuYR complex from in order to understand how the two proteins function in concert to acquire iron and contribute to the fitness of the bacteria in their highly competitive environments. The work is highly multidisciplinary and will involve X-ray crystallography and potentially cryo-EM, ligand-binding techniques such as microscale thermophoresis and isothermal titration calorimetry as well as a range of microbiological techniques and membrane protein biochemistry.


Faculty of Medical Sciences

Name of supervisor(s)

Professor Bert van den Berg

Eligibility Criteria

You must have, or expect to achieve, at least a 2:1 Honours degree in biomedicine, physiology, microbiology or a related area. A further qualification such as an MSc or MRes is advantageous.

This award is available to UK/EU and international applicants.

To study this course you need to meet the following English Language requirements: IELTS 6.5 overall (with a minimum of 5.5 in all other sub-skills).

How to apply

You must apply through the University’s online postgraduate application system. To do this please ‘Create a new account’.

Only mandatory fields need to be completed. However, you will need to include the following information:

  • insert the programme code 8300F in the programme of study section
  • select ‘PhD in the Faculty of Medical Sciences – Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences as the programme of study
  • insert the studentship code CB154 in the studentship/partnership reference field
  • attach a covering letter and CV. The covering letter must state the title of the studentship, quote the studentship reference code CB154 and state how your interests and experience relate to the project
  • attach degree transcripts and certificates and, if English is not your first language, a copy of your English language qualifications.


Please contact:

Professor Bert van den Berg
Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences

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