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Antiviral innate immunity in the ASGARD archaea

   School of Biology

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  Prof M F White  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Project Description

Viruses are an important part of most environments on the planet. All living things are infected by viruses, and many different defence systems have evolved to combat infection. One example is the CRISPR system for adaptive immunity, which is only found in prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea) and which has proven vital for the development of new genome editing technologies. Many other defence pathways appear to have evolved in bacteria and have been retained in eukaryotes, including humans. Our lab studies prokaryotic adaptive and innate immune defence utilising cyclic nucleotides as an infection signal. We also have a strong interest in the molecular biology of the Archaea – microbes often found in extreme environments which have played a crucial role in the evolution of eukaryotic life. In this project, which is funded by an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council, you will investigate innate immune pathways found in archaea of the ASGARD family – the prokaryotic organisms most closely linked to the origin of the eukaryotes. We aim to study these proteins to understand how they function to detect viral infection, signal via cyclic nucleotides and activate powerful destructive enzymes. The work should help us to understand how these defence systems operate and how they evolved in eukaryotes.

You will join a well-funded, productive and friendly lab with a mix of Masters and PhD students, Research Technicians and Postdocs. We occupy modern, well-equipped laboratories in St Andrews, close to the beautiful Scottish countryside and within 1 hour of Edinburgh. You will receive training in molecular biology, microbiology, bioinformatics and structural biology, depending on your past experience and interests.

Informal enquiries are welcome and should be made by email to Malcolm White (email [Email Address Removed]).

Applicants should have a degree in the Life Sciences; Masters level qualifications will be an advantage. Preferable start date by 1 April 2023. 

How To Apply

Please make a formal application to the School of Biology through our Online Application Portal.

We require the following documents; CV, personal statement, 2 references, academic qualifications, English language qualification (if applicable).

Keywords: CRISPR, viruses, innate immunity, archaea, molecular evolution

Funding Notes

Funding for this project comes from a European Research Council Advanced Grant. Funding covers a living allowance and Home fees for 3.5 years. For overseas candidates, there is a possibility of a fee waiver for the overseas portion of the fees.
Preferable start date by 1 April 2023.


1. Cyclic Nucleotide Signaling in Phage Defense and Counter-Defense.Athukoralage JS, White MF. Annu Rev Virol. 2022 May 13. doi: 10.1146/annurev-virology-100120-010228.
2. Cyclic nucleotide-induced helical structure activates a TIR immune effector.Hogrel G, Guild A, Graham S, Rickman H, Grüschow S, Bertrand Q, Spagnolo L, White MF. Nature. 2022 Aug;608(7924):808-812. doi: 10.1038/s41586-022-05070-9.
3. Bacterial origins of human cell-autonomous innate immune mechanisms.Wein T, Sorek R.Nat Rev Immunol. 2022 Apr 8. doi: 10.1038/s41577-022-00705-4.

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