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  Bacterial copper handling: opportunities for antimicrobial development

   Department of Biosciences

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  Dr K Djoko, Dr K Waldron  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Bacterial infection is a fact of life. Antibiotics have considerably reduced mortality but the spread of antibiotic resistance threatens to impede infectious disease control and compromise basic aspects of healthcare that we take for granted. In the UK alone, ~44,000 deaths occur every year from untreatable bacterial infections, costing the NHS nearly £2 billion annually. Before the discovery of modern antibiotics, copper salts were used to sanitise wounds and treat a variety of ailments. This practice dates back millennia to ancient civilisations. Today, copper is used as an antimicrobial agent in agriculture (animal husbandry, crop production, food processing) and in consumer healthcare products. In healthcare settings, metallic copper is used in touch surfaces to promote hygiene and prevent the spread of healthcare-associated infections by “contact killing” of bacteria. It has come to light in recent years that the human innate immune system can also harness the antibacterial action of copper to kill invading bacteria. This research has inspired development of antimicrobial molecules that can “boost” the immune system by increasing the levels of copper in infected tissues. This BBSRC DTP project aims to examine how copper affects the physiology of a pathogenic Neisseria species and how this organism coordinates its response to copper stress. This research is a joint initiative between Durham University and Newcastle University. It combines fundamental training in molecular microbiology and protein biochemistry with cutting-edge transcriptomics, bioinformatics, and metalloproteomics tools. The student will develop a multi-disciplinary skill set that can be applied to address a spectrum of bioscience-related questions in future careers. The student will be based in Dr Karrera Djoko’s laboratory at the Department of Biosciences (Durham) and will also spend time in Dr Kevin Waldron’s laboratory at the Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences (Newcastle). The student will gain additional exposure to broad research in bacterial pathogenesis, antimicrobial resistance, chemical biology, and drug development through interactions with members of the Bioactive Chemistry and Synthesis group, Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing, and the Centre for Global Infectious Diseases at Durham, and the Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology and the Centre for Synthetic Biology and the Bioeconomy at Newcastle.

For further information see the website:

To apply:
Please complete the online application form and attach a full CV and covering letter -

Informal enquiries may be made to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year BBSRC studentship under the Newcastle-Liverpool-Durham DTP. The successful applicant will receive research costs, tuition fees and stipend (£14,553 for 2017-18). The PhD will start in October 2018. Applicants should have, or be expecting to receive, a 2.1 Hons degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. EU candidates must have been resident in the UK for 3 years in order to receive full support. There are 2 stages to the application process.


Djoko KY (corresponding author), Phan M-D, Peters KM, Walker MJ, Schembri MA, McEwan AG. (2017). Interplay between tolerance mechanisms to copper and acid stress in Escherichia coli. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114(26): 6818–6823.