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Advancing engineering and gene circuits approaches to regulate metabolism in productive, fast-growing cyanobacterial strains

  • Full or part time
    Dr A McCormick
    Dr Baojun Wang
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, January 05, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Cyanobacteria are an important phylum of photosynthetic microbes that can convert captured CO2 into a wide variety of complex organic molecules. The growing availability of molecular tools and identification of new fast-growing strains continue to progress the use cyanobacteria in synthetic biology research and as renewable biotechnology platforms for the sustainable production of high-value chemicals (1).
This project aims to build on recently developed tools and methods in the McCormick and Wang labs (2) to improve on current approaches used in cyanobacteria to edit genomic DNA and to develop more complex synthetic biology approaches for modulating metabolism and environmental responses (e.g. environment sensing and gene control circuits) (3). The candidate will work closely with the recently formed CyanoSource consortium, which is currently building a whole genome knockout library for the key model cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 at the Edinburgh Genome Foundry. Important findings from that work will be translated to fast-growing strains (e.g. Synechococcus elongatus UTEX 2973) using CRISPR and/or genetic recombination approaches to develop promising genetic backgrounds with increased abundances of precursor metabolites for generating high value products (e.g. aromatic amino acids).
The candidate will then use these strains for building and testing synthetic gene regulatory circuits based on novel inducible systems to produce higher value products in response to different environmental stimuli. This two-pronged approach will help to develop a framework for systematically addressing the inherent complexities and challenges of delivering robust cyanobacterial production strains and increasing product yields.

Training: This project is an outstanding, multidisciplinary training opportunity to engage with a wide variety of molecular and physiological approaches, and to be involved in a high-throughput synthetic biology project involving two UK genome-foundries. You will develop expertise in cyanobacterial-based molecular skills, including DNA, RNA and protein analyses (e.g. qRT-PCR, Western blot, ion exchange chromatography), and photosynthetic physiology and fluorescence techniques. You will engineer, test and model the performance of new cyanobacterial strains, which will provide important new information for both fundamental and applied research. There will be abundant opportunity for you to present your research at regular meetings, including national and international conferences.

Please contact Alistair McCormick () directly if you are interested in this project (lab website: http://mccormick.bio.ed.ac.uk/).

Funding Notes

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If you would like us to consider you for one of our scholarships you must apply by 5 January 2020 at the latest.


Santos-Merino et al. (2019) New applications of synthetic biology tools for cyanobacterial metabolic engineering. Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol. 7: 33.
Vasudevan et al. (2019) CyanoGate: A modular cloning suite for engineering cyanobacteria based on the plant MoClo syntax. Plant Physiol. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1104/pp.18.01401
Bradley et al. (2016) Tools and principles for microbial gene circuit engineering. J. Mol. Biol. 428: 862.

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 109.70

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