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Copper economy of denitrification by soil microbes

   Department of Biosciences

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

About the Project

Global demand for food is rising but there is increasing competition for agricultural land by a rapidly growing population and increasing uncertainty from climate change. There is a need for more sustainable agriculture, namely the efficient production of crops with minimal impact on the environment, and this is a topic of key economic and societal importance.

A major factor limiting crop production is the availability of nitrogen in farmed soils. Up to half of fixed nitrogen is lost via denitrification, an essential metabolic process in most soil microbes. This loss of bioavailable nitrogen is offset by fertilisers, but production of fertilisers is expensive, accounting for ~80% of the energy cost in agriculture. Furthermore, denitrification produces nitrous oxide, a major greenhouse gas implicated in climate change. Agriculture generates ~70% of total anthropogenic nitrous oxide loading, mainly from denitrification of nitrogen-containing fertilisers by soil microbes, and these emissions have increased by ~20% over the last century.

At the molecular level, denitrification proceeds via a conserved pathway that involves several copper-containing enzymes, and thus the rates of denitrification are highly dependent on the availability of nutrient copper. In this project, the student will use techniques that span the breadth of biosciences, including biochemistry, molecular microbiology, structural biology (and modeling), bioinorganic chemistry, biophysics, and cutting-edge metalloproteomics, to examine how soil microbes acquire, traffic, and finally insert nutrient copper into copper-dependent enzymes that are involved in denitrification. The goal is to understand the fundamental factors driving denitrification and to design strategies for intervention.

This research is a joint initiative between Durham University and Newcastle University. The student will be based in Dr Karrera Djoko’s laboratory at the Department of Biosciences (Durham) and will spend time in Dr Kevin Waldron’s laboratory at the Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences (Newcastle). This project also involves collaborators at University of East Anglia and University of Queensland (Australia).

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 (£14,777 for 2018-19). The PhD will start in October 2019. 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.
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