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Biohybrids for Solar Chemicals and Fuels: Whole-Cell Photocatalysis by Non-Photosynthetic Organisms

Project Description

Solar energy is our most abundant energy source and has enormous potential as a clean and economical energy supply. This PhD project will tap into this under-utilised source of power by engineering biohybrid systems, coupling photocatalytic nanoparticles with bacteria for the biophotocatalytic production of solar chemicals such as fuels.
We have previously shown that the respiratory machinery of the bacterium, Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 (MR-1), can support direct exchange of solar energy (from synthetic photosensitisers) by transferring electrons across the bacterial outer membrane to enzymes in the periplasm (Rowe et al, 2017). In this project, you will use a novel synthetic biology approach to couple photocatalysts directly to outer membrane proteins to enhance electron transfer to the respiratory machinery. This will create biohybrid assemblies that use intracellular redox transformations in vivo (metabolism) to sustain light-driven extracellular catalysis. The biohybrid assemblies will be studied both at the protein level (purified proteins) and the whole cell level using a range of biophysical techniques.
You will learn skills in expression, purification, reconstitution and functional characterization of (membrane) proteins and the characterization of photosensitisers, including nanoparticles such as quantum dots. Advanced biophysical characterisation techniques including life-time fluorescent spectroscopy, confocal microscopy, bioelectrochemistry and cryoEM will also be used. A range of biophysical techniques related to surface modification and bio-conjugation will be used the control the interaction between photosensitisers and respiratory proteins.

Funding Notes

The Faculty of Biological Sciences is pleased to announce a number of fully-funded PhD studentships to start in Oct 2019, covering academic fees at UK/EU level and providing a stipend at research council rate (£15,009 for 2019-20) for 4 years. Candidates should have, or be expecting, a 2.1 or above at undergraduate level in a relevant subject. A range of projects, spanning the research areas of the faculty, are eligible for funding. Please apply online, clearly stating which project/supervisor you are interested in and including a CV and transcripts.


Harvie, A.J. Smith, C.T., Ahumada-Lazo, R., Jeuken, L.J.C., Califano, M. Bon, R.S., Hardman,S.J., Binks, D.J., Critchley, K. (2018) Ultrafast trap-state mediated electron transfer for quantum dot redox sensing, J. Phys. Chem. C, 22, 10173-10180. DOI:10.1021/acs.jpcc.8b02551
Rowe, S.F., Le Gall, G., Ainsworth, E.V., Davies, J.A., Lockwood, C.W.J., Shi, L., Elliston, A., Roberts, I.A., Waldron, K., Richardson, D.J., Clarke, T.A., Jeuken, L.J.C., Reisner, E., Butt, J.N. (2017) Light-driven H2 evolution and C=C or C=O bond hydrogenation by Shewanella oneidensis: A versatile strategy for photocatalysis by non-photosynthetic microorganisms, ACS Catalysis, 7, 7558-7566. DOI: 10.1021/acscatal.7b02736
Oram, J., Jeuken, L.J.C. (2016) A re-evaluation of electron transfer mechanisms in microbial electrochemistry: Shewanella releases iron that mediates extracellular electron transfer, ChemElectroChem, 3, 829-835. DOI: 10.1002/celc.201500505
Hwang, E.T., Sheikh, K. Orchard, K.L., Hojo, D, Radu, V., Lee, C.-Y., Ainsworth, E., Lockwood, C., Gross, M.A., Adschiri, T., Reisner, E., Butt, J.N. and Jeuken, L.J.C. (2015) A Decaheme Cytochrome as a Molecular Electron Conduit in Dye-Sensitized Photoanodes, Adv. Funct. Mater., 23, 2308-2315. DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201404541

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FTE Category A staff submitted: 60.90

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