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Are some viruses alive? Functional importance of primary metabolism and membrane gradients in giant viruses BBSRC SWBio DTP PhD studentship 2023 Entry. PhD in Biosciences

   Department of Biosciences

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  Prof Mike Allen, Dr A Monier, Prof D Lamb, Prof S L Kelly  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The BBSRC-funded South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP) involves a partnership of world-renown universities, research institutes and industry across the South West and Wales.

This partnership represents a distinctive group of bioscientists, with established international, national and regional networks, and widely recognised research excellence.

We aim to provide students with outstanding interdisciplinary research training within the following themes, underpinned by transformative technologies:

These are growth areas of the biosciences and for which there will be considerable future demand.

The award:

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP). 

Programme Overview

You will be recruited to a broad, interdisciplinary project, supported by a multidisciplinary supervisory team, with many cross-institutional projects available. There are also opportunities to:

• apply your research in an industrial setting (DTP CASE studentships).

• undertake research jointly with our core and associate partners (Standard DTP studentships with an   


• work with other national/international researchers.

• undertake fieldwork.

Our structured training programme will ensure you are well equipped as a bioscience researcher, supporting careers into academia, industry and beyond. 

Project Description

This project provides an outstanding opportunity to explore the role of the newly discovered giant viruses (Megaviruses).

Giant viruses, many larger than some bacteria, continue to be discovered in - or captured with – amoebae. They also infect the fitness of algae, cyanobacteria and plankton which produce more than 70% of the oxygen we breathe and absorb 50% of carbon dioxide and methane from the atmosphere. They have been isolated from marine, freshwater, and/or terrestrial sources in different parts of the world. At present there is no information at all on how these enigmatic viruses affect their hosts and their contributions to the global microbiome. Evidence of a giant virus membrane proton gradient and the finding that giant viruses encodes enzymes for a primary cellular metabolism including those of glycolysis, gluconeogenesis and Krebs Cycle open new horizons and important questions in giant virus research.

How and why do virus primary metabolism enzymes benefit the virus? How long can a proton gradient be maintained in seemingly metabolically inert virions? Is the maintenance of a membrane potential integral to infectivity? If lost, can it be restored? Finally, how do the giant viral primary metabolic enzymes enzymes affect host metabolism and do the viral enzymes have potential in future biotechnological applications?

The PhD applicant will use amoebae, algae and phytoplankton, as representative ecologically-critical organisms, and study their unique association when infected with a range of giant viruses containing different primary metabolic enzymes. The PhD applicant will elucidate how widespread membrane potentials are in giant viruses and study giant virus membrane structure using atomic force microscopy and confocal microscopy They will then use a combination of biological chemistry, microbiology and biophysical analysis to characterize unique giant virus primary metabolism enzymology and associated metabolites and elucidate how they are modified in infection. The applicant will investigate the interplay between viral metabolomes and membrane potentials that underpins the expansion of infected host cells’ metabolic capabilities and provides a selective evolutionary advantage compared to non-infected cells, particularly in host adaptation to harsh and changing environments.

Upon completion of this PhD, the applicant can expect to have undertaken inter-disciplinary approaches to address fundamental questions in science with the potential to make new and ground-breaking contributions to our knowledge and understanding of virus biology.

Part Time and Flexible Study Options

Part time study options maybe available please discuss with the supervisor. For further information please see -

Due to complexities and restrictions associated with visas for part-time studies, we are currently unable to accept part-time international students to the programme.

Entry Requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Masters degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

In addition, due to the strong mathematical component of the taught course in the first year and the quantitative emphasis in our projects, quantitative/mathematical experience is needed. This can be demonstrated through one or more of the following:

  • Undertaking units as part of your degree that have a significant quantitative/mathematical component*
  • Maths or Physics A-level (grade B and above)

*Significant mathematical component examples include; maths, statistics, bioinformatics.

Applicants must ensure they highlight their quantitative/mathematical background within their application and to upload any supporting evidence.

To support accessibility to PhD training opportunities, these studentships are only available to applicants that have not previously obtained or about to obtain a PhD degree (or equivalent).

How to apply

The closing date for applications is midnight on Monday, 5 December 2022. Interviews will be held between 1st and 15th February 2023.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email [Email Address Removed].

Project-specific queries should be directed to the primary supervisor.

For further information and to submit an application please visit -

Selection Process:

Please note, the studentship selection process will take place in two stages:

For further information please go to -

Funding Notes

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover
• a stipend* (at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £17.668 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
*An enhanced stipend is available for students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£24,789 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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