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Assembly of nitrous oxide reductase, a key enzyme in climate change (LEBRUNU20DTP1)

Project Description

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a greenhouse gas with a ~300 fold greater global warming potential than CO2 and an ability to deplete stratospheric ozone. Much of the N2O generated arises from activity of soil bacteria that are able to grow anaerobically through denitrification, a process central to the biogeochemical cycling of nitrogen, in which nitrate is reduced stepwise to dinitrogen (N2) via nitrite, nitric oxide (NO), and N2O. The last step of the pathway, reduction of N2O to the environmentally harmless N2, is catalysed by the enzyme nitrous oxide reductase (N2OR); failure of this step to occur is the major cause of N2O release into the atmosphere. Atmospheric levels of N2O are increasing, in large part due to the increased use in agriculture of nitrogenous fertilisers.

N2OR is a soluble homodimeric enzyme, with each subunit composed of two domains. One binds CuA,a thiol-bridged dinuclear copper centre, while the other binds CuZ, a unique tetranuclear Cu cluster that also contains sulfide. Assembly of the Cu cofactors of N2OR occurs in the periplasm and is dependent on a number of assembly proteins whose functions are, in most cases, not well defined.

This project aims to provide new molecular detail of the trafficking of copper and sulfide within the bacterial cell for assembly of Cu centres of N2OR, leading to new insights into the biogenesis of N2OR that will feed into long-term efforts towards maximising N2OR activity in soils, thereby reducing N2O emissions.

This multi-disciplinary project will be based in the Le Brun and Gates labs at UEA and the Balk lab at John Innes Centre and will involve microbiology, protein purification, biochemistry and bioanalytical techniques, offering excellent training potential for the appointed student within a supportive and stimulating environment.

Project supervisor:
Project sponsor: Norwich Research Park Bioscience Doctoral Training Partnership
Type of programme: PhD
Start date: 1 October 2020
Mode of study: Full-time
Studentship length: 4 years


- First degree (2:1 or above) in relevant subject
- English language (IELTS 6.5 overall, 6 in each section)


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the Norwich Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP). Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed as part of the studentship competition. Candidates will be interviewed on either the 7th, 8th or 9th January 2020.

The NRP DTP offers postgraduates the opportunity to undertake a 4-year research project whilst enhancing professional development and research skills through a comprehensive training programme. You will join a vibrant community of world-leading researchers. All NRPDTP students undertake a three-month professional internship (PIPS) during their study. The internship offers exciting and invaluable work experience designed to enhance professional development. Full support and advice will be provided by our Professional Internship team. Students with, or expecting to attain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply.

For further information and to apply, please visit our website:

Funding Notes

For funding eligibility guidance, please visit our website: View Website. Full Studentships cover a stipend (2019/0 rate: £15,009pa), research costs and tuition fees at UK/EU rate and are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.

Students from EU countries who do not meet the UK residency requirements may be eligible for a fees-only award. Students in receipt of a fees-only award will be eligible for a maintenance stipend awarded by the NRPDTP Bioscience Doctoral Scholarships. To be eligible students must meet the EU residency requirements.

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