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Application of Plastic Degrading Enzymes for Synthesis of Esters and Amides

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, July 31, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Enzymes have evolved to work under mutually compatible conditions for multi-step synthesis. We have been developing new enzymes for conversion of biomass-derived intermediates to biodegradable plastics precursors. We recently reported a combination of enzymes for the efficient conversion of cellulose-derived HMF to the bioplastics precursor 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) in a one pot continuous process (Green Chem., 2017, 19, 4660-4665). More recently we have been developing enzymes that can catalyse ester formation in aqueous systems.

This PhD studentship, supervised by Dr Andrew Carnell, will focus on development and application of an unexploited group of plastic degrading enzymes such as PETase that have shown the ability to catalyse transesterification in water with water miscible solvents/nucleophiles (unpublished). The ability of hydrolases to tolerate such solvent systems and to avoid competing hydrolysis is unusual. We have cloned and expressed a large number of enzymes and variants to screen for a wide range of synthetic biotransformations. We will specifically target both ester and amide bond forming reactions. These reactions will have significant advantages over existing enzymes that require pre-activation. The biotransformations will be scalable and ideally suited for inclusion in multistep enzyme cascades where the enzymes will be mutually compatible.

Candidates must have or expect to gain a good MChem (1st or 2i) degree in Chemistry and must be creative, highly motivated and able to work as a member of a team as well as independently. In addition to applying your knowledge of chemistry, you must be keen to learn new techniques in biocatalysis and enzyme mutagenesis. The project will be based in the Department of Chemistry with regular interaction with the Liverpool GeneMill. The project is funded though the Centre of Excellence in Biocatalysis, Biotransformation and Biocatalytic Manufacturing (CoEBio3) and you will have regular interaction with industrialists, academics and PhD students involved in the programme, presenting your work to the consortium twice a year. You will join a vibrant research community and will be given the opportunity to attend national and international conferences.

Informal Enquiries can be made to Dr Andrew Carnell: mailto:

Funding Notes

The award will pay full tuition fees and a maintenance grant for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a.) and it is anticipated that the successful candidate will start in September 2019. To be eligible to apply you must be a UK or EU national.


1. “The continuous oxidation of HMF to FDCA and the immobilisation and stabilisation of periplasmic aldehyde oxidase (PaoABC)” S. M. McKenna, P. Mines, P. Law, K. Kovacs-Schreiner, W. R. Birmingham, N.J. Turner, S. Leimkühler, A. J. Carnell,* Green Chem., 2017, 19, 4660-4665
2.“Enzyme Cascade Reactions: Synthesis of Furandicarboxylic Acid (FDCA) and Carboxylic Acids using Oxidases in Tandem” S. McKenna, S. Leimkühler, S. Herter, N. J. Turner, A. J. Carnell, Green Chem. 2015, 17, 3271-3275.
3. “Galactose Oxidase Variants for the Oxidation of Amino Alcohols in Enzyme Cascade Synthesis” S. Herter, S. McKenna, A. Frazer, S. Leimkühler, A. J. Carnell, N. J. Turner, ChemCatChem. 2015, 3, 2313-2317.
4. “Catalytic bio–chemo and bio–bio tandem oxidation reactions for amide and carboxylic acid synthesis” B. Bechi, S. Herter, S. McKenna, S. Leimkühler, N. J. Turner and A. J. Carnell, Green Chem. 2014, 16, 4524-4529.

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