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Biopolymer availability and transport in the GI tract

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  • Full or part time
    Prof J Yeomans
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

There is very limited knowledge of the processes in the gastrointestinal tract that underpin healthy and efficient digestion. Increased understanding is vital to help improve dietary habits to halt the current epidemics of obesity and type II diabetes and to design better treatments for diseases of the digestive system. Therefore our project will develop physical, computational models which will help to understand the basic mechanistic principles behind the breakdown of food in the gut, and its absorption across the mucus layer that lines the gut wall.

We will concentrate on two aspects of the digestive process:
As the food enters the stomach it is typically in the form of a bolus, a tightly packed plug of biopolymers. We will use mesoscale simulations to assess the relative importance of enzymes, diffusion and shear on the breakdown of the bolus, and the effect of its initial structure and composition on the break-up pathway.

The walls of the large intestine are covered by a mucus layer that acts as a physical barrier to microorganisms and shields the gut wall from digestive enzymes. We will model how biomolecules are absorbed across the mucus layer. A natural extension will be to the motion of bacteria. We will collaborate with Professor Stefano Guido, University of Naples, Frederico II, who is planning experiments investigating how biopolymers and bacteria move in gels.
The iCASE student will be a member of the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford and will have a shared office in the purpose-built Beecroft Building, opened in 2018. Oxford University is repeatedly ranked in the top five universities worldwide. Many distinguished visitors, the outstanding faculty, a network of enthusiastic junior scientists and the numerous seminar series make Oxford Physics a highly stimulating research environment. The student will also be a member of the Oxford Centre for Soft and Biological Matter which facilitates interactions between scientists working in Soft Matter located in the Departments of Chemistry, Mathematics, Engineering and Physics through workshops and weekly joint seminars. He/she will also benefit from a background in the BioSciences gained through the Doctoral Training Centre.

The student will spend a month each year at PepsiCo R&D in Leicester which is one of PepsiCo’s largest global R&D sites. There will be mentoring throughout the studentship, and particularly during the industrial placement, on behavioural competencies which underpin career growth in multinational companies such as PepsiCo. Through the research and placements the iCASE student will gain skills in critical thinking, physical and computational modelling and theoretical and biophysics, a network of scientists from Oxford and other universities, and experience within an industrial environment. Together with the enhanced training provided by the Biosciences Doctoral Training Centre this will prepare him/her to be a future leader in academic and industrial R&D.

How to apply:
If you are interested in applying for a BBSRC iCASE studentship please contact the named supervisor, Julia Yeomans ([Email Address Removed]) for further information and to determine whether they would encourage you to apply. Applicants who wish to apply for a BBSRC iCASE studentship should make an enquiry to the Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP via [Email Address Removed] for advice on making a full and formal application to the University.

Funding Notes

This project is supported through the Oxford Interdisciplinary Bioscience Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) studentship programme. The student recruited to this project will join a cohort of students enrolled in the DTP’s interdisciplinary training programme, and will be able to take full advantage of the training and networking opportunities available through the DTP. For further, detais please visit

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