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Protein Choreography of the Molecular Compass

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: BBSRC SWBio DTP funded CASE studentship available for September 2022 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend, which is currently £15,609 per annum for 2022-23, on a full-time basis.
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 22nd October 2021
Closes: 16th December 2021
Reference: 4268

Birds, fruit flies and many other animals are equipped with the remarkable ability to sense the Earth’s magnetic field by means of a biochemical reaction in cryptochrome proteins. Surprisingly, this protein molecular compass utilises truly quantum effects to respond to changes in the magnetic field as the animal navigates. The molecular basis of how these proteins structurally reconfigure in response to planetary magnetic fields, transduced by quantum effects on single electrons, is unknown.  

In migratory songbirds, such as the European robin, Cryptochrome 4 (Cry4) is the protein identified to correlate with magnetosensation. Photoreduction of Cry4 has been shown to be sensitive to magnetic fields in vitro. Yet, little is known about the structure of Cry4 and which conformational changes transduce the geomagnetic field.    Here, we will aim to decipher the inner workings of Cry4 protein as the molecular transducer of our planet’s magnetic field by migratory birds.    You will learn a variety of cutting-edge and highly transferable biophysical and computational tools and techniques. This studentship will provide a rare opportunity to become an expert in hydrogen/deuterium-exchange mass spectrometry (HDX-MS), using novel prototype instrumentation developed by the Phillips lab at The Living Systems Institute, Univ. Exeter. 

You will make millisecond time-resolved measurements of the protein structural dynamics under magnetic stimulation. You will then use these experimental results to seed molecular dynamics simulations (Mulholland Group, Univ. Bristol) and combine this with quantum mechanics calculations (Kattnig Group, Univ. Exeter). As a result, you will produce an experimentally driven molecular movie of the process of Cry4 functional switching with atomistic resolution. In addition, we will provide you with full training in mass spectrometry, molecular dynamics simulation, fluorescence spectroscopy, molecular biology, and recombinant protein expression. 

To study Cry4’s magnetosensitivity, you will employ these techniques in combination with magneto- and photo-stimulation. This project is open to students with experience in natural sciences (chemistry; biosciences; physical sciences and engineering degrees). As this is a highly interdisciplinary project, we anticipate the successful candidate will not have prior experience in all relevant areas of research and we are fully committed to supporting you to succeed, regardless of your background. This project will involve joint working between Exeter and Bristol and may involve collaboration visits to our collaborators at The University of Lund (avian cognition and ecology), The University of Oxford (optical spectroscopy) and The National Physical Laboratory (cellular magnetic field effects).    

Eligibility 

To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet both the academic and residence criteria. 

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover 

  • a stipend* at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £15,609 per annum for 2022-23
    •    research and training costs 
    •    tuition fees (at the standard Research Councils UK rate) 
    •    additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship 

Please refer to the regulations or Annex 1 of the Research Council Training Grant Guide to confirm that you meet the residence criteria for a fully-funded studentship.  Any further queries in relation to residency must be directed to the institution that you are applying to. 

* An enhanced stipend is available for students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£24,090 per annum for 2022-2023). There may also be enhanced stipends associated with projects that have a CASE partner (CASE projects are highlighted as *CASE in the project lists). 

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