Cell membrane engineering for biotechnology

   College of Health and Life Sciences

This project is no longer listed on FindAPhD.com and may not be available.

Click here to search FindAPhD.com for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr A Goddard, Prof R M Bill  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The global economy has an unsustainable dependence on fossil raw material and concerns about environmental sustainability are becoming more acute. Biotechnological processes using microorganisms as cell factories to produce valuable compounds from renewable biomass are an attractive alternative, and an increasing number of platform and high-value chemicals are being produced at industrial scale using this strategy. However, many microbial processes are not implemented at industrial level because the product yield is poorer and more expensive than achieved by chemical synthesis.

It is well-established that microbes show stress responses during bioprocessing and one reason for poor product output from cell factories is production conditions that are ultimately toxic to the cells, often at the level of the cell membrane. Examples of stresses that are demonstrably membrane-centric are solvents, e.g. butanol production by Clostridia and ethanol production by yeast, and weak acids such a lactic acid produced by bacteria. This project will seek to alter the cell membrane of industrial microbes to increase tolerance to stresses during bioprocessing. 

Building on our recent findings in yeast, the approach will use a powerful combination of in vitro assays, microbial cell culture, and ‘omics technologies to identify the molecular targets e.g. lipids and transporters. Genetic engineering to create strains will be followed by strain characterisation to determine if the desired membrane alterations have been achieved and if tolerance to a particular stress (or stresses) has been increased. Iterative design-build cycles will be undertaken as appropriate to further improve the strains.

This project would suit applicants with an interest in biophysics and biochemistry of the cell membrane and/or in microbial fermentations and industrial application of fundamental science.

Estimated yearly cost of consumables

£5,000 per annum

Person Specification

A Masters degree in a relevant subject with a 60% or higher weighted average, and/or a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree (or an equivalent qualification from an overseas institution)

Submitting an application

As part of the application, you will need to supply:

·        A copy of your current CV

·        Copies of your academic qualifications for your Bachelor degree, and Masters degree (if studied); this should include both certificates and transcripts, and must be translated in to English

·        A research proposal statement*

·        Two academic references

·        Proof of your English Language proficiency

Details of how to submit your application can be found here

*The application must be accompanied by a “research proposal” statement. An original proposal is not required as the initial scope of the project has been defined, candidates should take this opportunity to detail how their knowledge and experience will benefit the project and should also be accompanied by a brief review of relevant research literature.

Please include the supervisor’s name and project title in your Personal Statement.

If you require further information about the application process please contact the Postgraduate Admissions team at [Email Address Removed]

Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

There is no funding for this project.


Lairón-Peris, M., Castiglioni, G.L., Routledge, S.J., Alonso-del-Real, J., Linney, J.A., Pitt, A.R., Melcr, J., Goddard. A.D., Barrio, E. and Querol, A (2021) Adaptive response to wine selective pressures shapes the genome of a Saccharomyces interspecies hybrid. Microbial Genomics. 7 (8), 000628.
Mukhopadhyay, A., Tolerance engineering in bacteria for the production of advanced biofuels and chemicals. Trends in Microbiology, 2015. 23(8), 498-508.
Santoscoy, M. C., & Jarboe, L. R. (2019). Streamlined assessment of membrane permeability and its application to membrane engineering of Escherichia coli for octanoic acid tolerance. Journal of industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology, 46(6), 843-853.