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(BBSRC DTP) Engineering biology: light-responsive carbohydrate materials for the control of molecular recognition

   Department of Chemistry

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  Prof Robert Field, Dr Simon Webb, Prof Aline Miller  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The recognition of carbohydrates spans most areas of biology, from pathogen interactions with their hosts, through the precision activities of the immune system, to the structure and mechanics of the extracellular matrix in animals, storage carbohydrates and the cell wall in plants. Hence, carbohydrate recognition (protein-carbohydrates; carbohydrate-carbohydrate) has potential in relation diagnostics and therapeutics, while control of carbohydrate properties could support controlled drug delivery or the manipulation of matrices impacting cell fate in tissue engineering. However, carbohydrates in nature are heterogeneous and extremely difficult to manipulate with molecular precision.  

This project will take the components that nature offers us – carbohydrates and the enzymes to make them - to develop new-to-nature building blocks, the properties of which can be manipulated by light. That is, a photoswitch approach will be developed to enable carbohydrate recognition events to be turned on/off by changing the shape of the molecule, affecting carbohydrate presentation and hence recognition. 

This project would suit a student with a background chemistry, biochemistry or a related subject and with a desire to work at the interface between disciplines. The project will provide opportunities for training in aspects of organic and supramolecular chemistry, photochemistry, enzymatic synthesis, microbiology and cell biology, depending on the skills and interests of the student. The project will be hosted by three well-established and collegiate research groups, with complementary expertise that spans the full breadth of the project. 

Field group - 

Webb group - 

Miller group - 


Applicants must 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, engineering or technology. 

Before you Apply

Applicants must make direct contact with preferred supervisors before applying. It is your responsibility to make arrangements to meet with potential supervisors, prior to submitting a formal online application.

How To Apply

To be considered for this project you MUST submit a formal online application form - full details on eligibility how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website

Your application form must be accompanied by a number of supporting documents by the advertised deadlines. Without all the required documents submitted at the time of application, your application will not be processed and we cannot accept responsibility for late or missed deadlines. Incomplete applications will not be considered. If you have any queries regarding making an application please contact our admissions team [Email Address Removed]

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website


Funding Notes

Studentship funding is for 4 years. This scheme is open to both the UK and international applicants. We are only able to offer a limited number of studentships to applicants outside the UK. Therefore, full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


Full supervisor publication details are available of Google Scholar.
Assessing the Toxicity and Mitigating the Impact of Harmful Prymnesium Blooms in Eutrophic Waters of the Norfolk Broads. Environmental science & technology, 2021, 55, 16538-16551.
Preparative and Kinetic Analysis of β‐1, 4‐and β‐1, 3‐Glucan Phosphorylases Informs Access to Human Milk Oligosaccharide Fragments and Analogues Thereof. ChemBioChem, 2020, 21, 1043-1049.
Enzymatic control of cycloadduct conformation ensures reversible 1, 3-dipolar cycloaddition in a prFMN-dependent decarboxylase. Nature chemistry, 2019, 11, 1049-1057.
Assembling a plug-and-play production line for combinatorial biosynthesis of aromatic polyketides in Escherichia coli. PLoS biology, 2019, 17, e3000347.
Complex pectin metabolism by gut bacteria reveals novel catalytic functions. Nature, 2017, 544, 65-70.

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