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Artificial Cells as Living Technology


Project Description

The Barrow (Engineering) and Castell (Pharmacy) laboratories at Cardiff University seek motivated PhD candidates to contribute to an exciting €5M funded European collaboration in the field of synthetic biology and the development of programmable artificial cells as living technology.

Project Background:

This large-scale multidisciplinary research project aims to build on our existing work in the fabrication of membrane compartmentalised artificial cells that harness some of the complexity observed in biological systems. As a central technology, these engineered synthetic cells provide a platform to encapsulate chemical and biochemical processes within cell-like structures that can then be programmed and orchestrated to act in dynamic and responsive ways, much like their biological counterparts. By exploiting biologically controlled approaches to material engineering this promises new technological capabilities with broad applications; from helping us better understand the functions of the cell and how disfunction gives rise to disease, to the development of drug discovery and characterisation platforms, new diagnostics and smart-functional-materials.

Project Description:

The emerging field of Synthetic Biology involves the application of engineering principles to biological systems and components. Artificial cells are engineered elements made via this approach that mimic some of the essential characteristics of biological cells. Such materials hold great promise as a new class of functional materials well suited to sophisticated and complex tasks through their potential to act in dynamic and responsive ways.

This project aims to build on our earlier work in the microfluidic fabrication of membrane compartmentalised artificial cells as precision built, ordered, hierarchical cellular constructs - a design mimicking living systems. In these systems we are able to reconstitute functional water-soluble and membrane proteins, in addition to synthetic chemistries. We aim to develop new approaches to provide control of spatially organised chemistries, their interaction and regulation to elicit new and useful functions, such as stimuli-responsiveness, sensing, chemical-synthesis, and smart integration of these properties - to produce next generation soft-matter materials inspired by biology. It is anticipated that such synthetic biological systems will play important roles in diverse application areas such as drug delivery, tissue engineering, bio- and environmental-sensing and future smart materials.

Training Environment:

Cardiff is rated 5th overall in the 2014 UK Research Excellence Framework (REF). Research at Cardiff is working across disciplines to tackle major challenges facing society, the economy and the environment. Research in the Castell and Barrow laboratories takes an interdisciplinary approach at the interface of the physical and biological sciences. This project will utilise many techniques and allow for the development of a wide array of skills. Between the complementary PhD opportunities on offer, techniques will include biochemistry and molecular biology, microfabrication, microfluidics, and microscopy, together with chemical and biophysical methods in addition to coding for experimental design and data analysis, and COMSOL simulation. The required resources are all available between the host Schools of Engineering and Pharmacy. The work will take place within a multidisciplinary team of wide-ranging expertise, within which the successful candidates will play active roles and synergise with other researchers. Students will contribute to the wider European collaborative team of the Artificial Cells as Living Technology project, providing the opportunity to interact with partners in Italy, France and Switzerland contributing to collaborative research, network events and presenting at meetings. This will result in an extremely well-rounded, interdisciplinary and highly employable individual. Future prospects look good, especially in several advanced engineering and bio-technology fields, such as bioengineering and biomedicine.

Applicants should achieve 2:1 or higher in a relevant subject area of either the physical or life sciences, such as biomedical sciences, biology, pharmacy, medicine, physiology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, engineering or related subjects. An interest in multidisciplinary research and a desire to learn across disciplines is essential. We are seeking enthusiastic scientists with appropriate knowledge/experience/ideas in some of the areas outlined (see Training Environment) with an eagerness to learn and develop in the aspects that are new to the candidate. An appropriate Masters level qualification in a relevant subject area would be advantageous, but is not essential. These projects would suit talented individuals with strong backgrounds in either biological (e.g. cell biology, biochemistry, pharmacy, medicine) or physical (e.g. physics, chemistry, engineering, biophysics) sciences looking to apply their knowledge across discipline boundaries.

Candidates must have obtained their first degree before the programme start date. If English is not the applicant’s first language, then they must obtain 6.5 IELTS with at least 5.5 in each subscore (or equivalent qualification).

Funding Notes

The studentship is open to home or EU students. International students may apply but must confirm that they are able to pay the difference between the home and international fee rate (approx. £15,000pa) themselves. The studentship will cover home/EU tuition fees, and provide a tax-free annual stipend of £14,777 per annum with annual increments.

In the first instance, you should submit a CV & Covering Letter to Prof. David Barrow [] (Engineering) and Dr. Oliver Castell [] (Pharmacy). The successful candidates will then be invited to submit an application.

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