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An omics-based approach to identifying novel biocatalysts and metabolites (ref: BBSRC21/HLS/APP/BLACK)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Prof G Black  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The activity of many enzymes expressed recombinantly in Escherichia coli cannot be determined using standard biochemical assays, as often the substrates that these enzymes are tested against are not relevant, or the products produced are not detectable. However, today the biochemical footprints of such unknown enzyme activities can be revealed via analysis of the metabolomes of the recombinant E. coli clones employed, using high-resolution mass-spectrometry.

This project aims to take advantage of this phenomenon to expedite the identification of novel biocatalysts and metabolites, and ultimately over-produced metabolites as potential high-value products. The project will be based in the new labs of the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment ( at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, and will have access to its well-resourced Multi-omics Lab, including the recently commissioned state-of-the-art Thermo Scientific ID-X Tribrid mass-spectrometer.

Prozomix, the industrial partner, have the largest number of diverse/native “biocatalysis enzyme panels” available globally. The enzymes in these panels are all recombinant and take the form of freeze-dried cell free extracts of the respective E. coli expression clones. These maximum diversity biocatalysis enzyme panels will therefore provide us with an increased chance of identifying novel biocatalysts and metabolites.

The project will use high-resolution mass-spectrometry coupled to liquid chromatography to identify and characterise all possible metabolites. Metabolic engineering approaches will then be used to over-produce any novel metabolites.

This is a 4-year fully funded BBSRC studentship in collaboration with Prozomix, which is based in Haltwhistle, only a short (< 1 hour) train/car journey from Newcastle. The length of time spent at Prozomix, across the project, will be at least 12 months. The student will join a cohort of students enrolled on the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) Collaborative Training Partnership (CTP) ( and will benefit from the wide range of additional training opportunities this provides.  

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

·      Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

·      Appropriate IELTS score, if required.


For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 


Please note: Applications should include a short summary (500 words max) of a relevant piece of research that you have previously completed and the reasons you consider yourself suited to the project, rather than a research proposal, in the research proposal section of the application. Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. BBSRC21/…) will not be considered. 


Start Date: 1st September 2021

Interviews: Mid-May

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. 


For informal enquiries, please contact Prof Gary Black ([Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home students. The studentship consists of a full stipend, paid for four years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22, this is £15,609 pa), plus an additional contribution to the stipend of £1,500 pa from the industrial partner, and full Home Fees.
Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:
• Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
• have settled status, or
• have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
• have indefinite leave to remain or enter.
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