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Developing novel drugs targeting gut microbiota-accelerated heart diseases

School of Life Sciences

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Dr Yin Chen , Prof T Bugg , Dr A Cameron No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

It is increasing evident that human is a “super-organism”. We co-exist with trillions of microorganisms in our body (collectively named as microbiota), and our health can largely depend on the interrelationship between ourselves and associated microbiome. Although we start to appreciate the enormous diversity of the microbiome and their biogeography in our body thanks to the technology advance of next-generation sequencing, our knowledge on the exact functions of majority of the human microbiome is very limited.

This PhD project aims to address a highly topic issue: the production of trimethylamine (and its oxidative product trimethylamine oxide) by human microbiota. Production of these small amines in our bodies has been shown to promote plaque formation in blood vessels and hence development of cardiovascular disease (Wang et al. 2011; Koeth et al., 2013). This metabolic pathway is primarily driven by oral and intestinal microbes through the degradation of dietary quaternary amines, such as carnitine which is an essential micronutrient for human.

We have recently identified a novel Rieske type monooxygenase, CntA, involved in the transformation of carnitine to trimethylamine from representative human microbiota (Zhu et al., 2014) and have solved the structure of this protein. CntA represents a large group of previously uncharacterized Rieske type proteins and has a number of unusual features. For example, it has a “bridging” glutamate rather than an aspartate residue coordinating cross-subunit electron transfer.

The aim of this project is therefore twofold: 1) to study the structure-function relationship of CntA; 2) using the structural data to rational-design specific inhibitors through chemical biosynthesis as well as screening from natural product libraries for diminishing carnitine-dependent atherosclerosis in humans.
Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:
- Molecular cloning and construction of expression vectors in E. coli;
- Molecular cloning and construction of expression vectors;
- Site directed mutagenesis, protein purification;
- Steady state enzyme kinetics;
- Homology modelling;
- UV-Vis spectrometry; ICP-MS
- Drug design
- Inhibitor testing using gut microbiota

Funding Notes

Studentship includes: fees, a tax-free stipend of at least £15,009 p.a (to rise in line with UKRI recommendation); a travel allowance in year 1; a travel / conference budget; a generous consumables budget and use of a MacBook Pro for the duration of the programme. In order to apply you must ensure that you are eligible.


Wang et al 2011 Gut flora metabolism of phosphatidylcholine promotes cardiovascular disease. Nature 472:57-63.

Koeth et al., 2013 Intestinal microbiota metabolism of L-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis. Nature Medicine. 19, 576–585.

Zhu et al., 2014 Carnitine metabolism to trimethylamine by an unusual Rieske-type oxygenase from human microbiota PNAS 111:4268-4273.

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