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Development of optical probes based on encoded aptamers for RNA visualization in live cells

   Institute of Chemical Biology

  Prof R Vilar, Dr M Kuimova, Prof D Rueda  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

This project is sponsored by the Institute of Chemical Biology EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training


Professor Ramon Vilar (Department of Chemistry, ICL)

Professor Marina Kuimova (Department of Chemistry, ICL)

Professor David Rueda (Department of Infectious Disease, ICL)


RNA is the carrier of genetic information from DNA to proteins. In addition, non-coding RNAs have been found to assist in many essential regulatory functions, which are still being discovered and studied. To fully understand RNAs’ varied functions, there is increasing interest in developing methods to visualize them in live cells. In this project we propose to develop a series of small-molecule probes which in combination with an encoded aptamer will be used to visualize RNA dynamics in live cells. To achieve this, we will build on recent optical probes developed in our group which have unique photophysical properties; in combination with the proposed aptamers, it will yield the first encoded RNA visualization tool that employs fluorescence lifetime to study RNA dynamics in single cells. We will also aim to develop this further to utilize super-resolution microscopy. This multidisciplinary project will involve the development of new small-molecule optical probes, nucleic acid chemical biology, and live cell microscopy.

Recruitment will continue until the post is filled.


The entry requirement is a degree in the physical sciences with a minimum 2.1 or above (or equivalent).

Chemistry, physics, mathematics and engineering graduates who wish to learn how to apply their physical sciences skills to biological problems. Students from biological or medicinal backgrounds are usually not eligible. If in doubt, please contact us

We are only able to accept candidates with both ‘Home’ fee status applicants for this project. Please see our Eligibility Criteria webpage for more detailed information.

About the ICB CDT

Successful applicants to this project will be part of 2023 entry cohort of the EPSRC CDT in Chemical Biology: Innovation for the Life Sciences. The aim of the ICB CDT, one of the longest standing CDTs in the UK, is to train students in the art of multidisciplinary Chemical Biology research, giving them the exciting opportunity to develop the next generation of molecular tools and technologies for making, measuring, modelling and manipulating molecular interactions in biological systems.

Applicants to this programme will enrol on a 1 year MRes in Chemical Biology and Bioentrepreneurship, followed by a 3 year PhD, building on the research project from the MRes. For further information, please see our studentship webpages.

Successful applicants, both Home and International, will be awarded a fully funded studentship. This includes:

  • Annual National Minimum Doctoral Stipend, currently £17,668 + £2000 London allowance for 2022/23
  • Annual Tuition fees at either the Home or Overseas fee rate for both the MRes and PhD years
  • A Research Training Support Grant for laboratory consumable costs of £3,500 per year
  • Funding to attend conferences
  • Transferable skills training

How to apply

To apply for this project, please submit an application on the Imperial College Gateway (please see our How to Apply page for more detailed guidance).

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