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EASTBIO Disrupting bacterial biofilms with peptide-coated hydrogels

   School of Biology

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  Dr CM Czekster, Dr Alfredo Damiano Bonaccorso  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


Biofouling is the accumulation of microorganisms in a surface, ultimately causing degradation and decay. If devices are in contact with water and moisture it will occur to ships, medical devices, and several instruments employed in manufacturing. Decontamination and repair of damage caused by biofouling costs hundreds of billions of dollars to the world economy every year (1). For biofouling to occur, a complex interaction between microbes and other organisms takes place. This process starts with bacterial adhesion to a surface forming a biofilm, allowing other organisms to attach. In this project, we will focus on stopping the initial bacterial adhesion phase employing extracellular enzymes that can both degrade the bacterial layer and/or inhibit bacterial biofilm formation. 

We will build on prior knowledge from our lab detailing a novel strategy to disrupt bacterial biofilms, focused on extracellular peptidases and cyclic peptides. We will study specific enzyme targets from bacteria that often initiate biofouling (examples are Vibrio alginolyticus, Shewanella putrefaciens and Gallionella ferruginea) and develop a common strategy to stop surface colonization. 

This project is in collaboration with Dr Bonaccorso (University of St Andrews, co-supervisor School of Chemistry), who has extensive experience with hydrogel development and 3D printing of biomaterials. Project objectives are:

1-     Characterise key enzyme targets from bacteria that initiate biofouling. This will be done combining enzymology, biochemical assays, protein crystallography and biophysical techniques (isothermal titration calorimetry, for example).

2-     Development of peptide inhibitors that specifically target these enzymes. To achieve this objective, we will produce several peptide variants using biocatalysis and standard peptide synthesis. These peptide libraries will be screened as enzyme inhibitors and mode of action determined.

3-     In vivo testing of peptide inhibitors. This will employ biofilm assays and different combinations of peptide treatments.

4-     Development of a peptide embedded hydrogel, and testing of its antibiofilm properties. Different alternatives for peptide delivery will be explored, for example using immobilization, controlled release, and entrapment.

This project is highly interdisciplinary and will provide training in bacterial biofilm growth, enzymology, structural biology, and biomaterial science. Such comprehensive approach will unveil crucial findings in disrupting bacterial biofilms formed by organisms that cause great economic impact to several different industries. Project will generate publications in high quality journals as well as technology and patents related to peptide antimicrobial compounds and delivery. 


Application instructions can be found on the EASTBIO website-

1)     Download and complete the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion survey.

2)     Download and complete the EASTBIO Application Form.

3)     Submit an application to St Andrews University through the Online Application Portal

Your online application must include the following documents:

-         Completed EASTBIO application form

-         2 References (to be completed on the EASTBIO Reference Form, also found on the EASTBIO website)

-         Academic Qualifications

-         English Language Qualification (if applicable)

Unfortunately due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications. Please make sure your application is complete by Monday 5th December 2022.



Queries on the project can be directed to the project supervisor.

Queries on the application process can be directed to Jess Fitzgerald at [Email Address Removed]

UKRI eligibility guidance: Terms and Conditions: View Website International/EU: View Website

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership.
This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend at UKRI standard rate and UK level tuition fees. The University of St Andrews will cover the Home-International fee difference.


Cámara, M., Green, W., MacPhee, C.E. et al. Economic significance of biofilms: a multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral challenge. npj Biofilms Microbiomes 8, 42 (2022).

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