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Deciphering translation of the ‘untranslated’ regions of messenger RNAs

   Department of Biochemistry

  , Dr Chun Shen Lim  Applications accepted all year round  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

We are seeking a highly motivated PhD candidate to join an interdisciplinary research team at the University of Otago, investigating a new mechanism in regulating gene expression. Scholarships are available through the University of Otago.

The University of Otago is ranked in the top 1% of Universities in the world. The project is located in the Biochemistry Department, Dunedin, New Zealand.


The regulation of gene expression is critical for the normal cellular function and the development of multicellular eukaryotes. We have recently found an undescribed mechanism that regulates gene expression, through splicing and translation that occur at the 5′ untranslated regions of messenger RNAs. This links splicing and translation, key sequential cellular processes that occur in two separate cellular compartments. We estimate that about 30 per cent of messenger RNAs are regulated by this new mechanism. We propose that such messenger RNAs can be translated to build two or more different peptides or proteins, due to an alternative type of translation on the 5′ ‘untranslated’ regions.

This research will use a combination of new computational and laboratory techniques to understand how this new regulatory mechanism works using human and plant systems. The expenses for this project are supported by a Marsden Fast-Start Grant (2022-2024) and a University of Otago Research Grant (2022) with Dr Chun Shen Lim as Principal Investigator.

Applicant attributes

The successful applicant will have a BSc(Hons) degree or an MSc degree in fields including, but not limited to, Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Genetics, Bioinformatics, Physics or Mathematics. The applicants must meet the criteria for enrolment in the PhD programme at the University of Otago.

It is expected the project will start in 2022, the date depending on when NZ borders open. NZ applicants could start as soon as possible.

Include in your application:

(i) a copy of your CV,

(ii) a copy of your academic transcript,

(iii) a short motivation statement (~500 words), and

(iv) a pdf copy of your research thesis. Prior 'A' grade research e.g. a MSc, for BSc (Hons) is required by the University of Otago.

The ability to communicate proficiently in English is essential. See formal English language requirements.

Funding Notes

Scholarship details
- The successful applicant will apply for and if successful receive a stipend of NZ$28,600 per annum, in addition to tuition fees. The tenure of the PhD scholarship is 3 years (View Website).
- NZ applicants with a A in an MSc or BSc honours can apply now. A GPA of equivalent to an Otago GPA of 7.5 (A/A-) on a nine point scale or greater is expected.
- International candidates should express interest now but applications will take longer.


Lim, C. S., Wardell, S. J. T., Kleffmann, T., & Brown, C. M. (2018). The exon-intron gene structure upstream of the initiation codon predicts translation efficiency. Nucleic Acids Res., 46, 4575–4591.

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