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EASTBIO Investigating the mechanisms of biological calcification using cryo-electron microscopy and super-resolution microscopy

   School of Chemistry

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  Dr F Nudelman, Dr Matthew Horrocks  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Project Details:

The use of inorganic materials to produce mineralised tissues such as bone and teeth is a fundamental process in Nature. Organisms from all kingdoms are well known to produce a wide range of mineralised structures that are optimally adapted for essential biological functions including mechanical support, protection and navigation. Among the many mineralising organisms found in nature, coccolithophores are one of the most interesting. These organisms are marine unicellular algae that produce scales of calcium carbonate crystals called coccoliths that form an exoskeleton around the cells [1]. Each scale is made of nano-crystals of calcite assembled into a complex disk-like structure, constituting an astonishing example of the ability of organisms to precisely control the nucleation, growth and shape of mineral nano-building blocks, and their assembly into complex structures [1]. Coccolithiophores are also fascinating in that the shape of the coccoliths produced are genus-specific, which demonstrates that the mineral patterns they produce are genetically controlled. Finally, biomineralisation by coccolithophores are of high importance to the environment and Earth’s biogeochemical cycle.

They produce ca. 1026 coccoliths/year and are responsible for ca. 50% of deep sea carbon burial, forming the largest geological sink of carbon from the ocean/atmosphere reservoir [2]. The significance of coccolithophore biomineralisation to our environment, coupled with their abundance in our oceans, highlight the need to understand the mechanism of calcification in these organisms and how that will respond to anthropogenic change, including ocean acidification. To date, however, we still don’t know how coccolithophores produce such distinctive and sophisticated mineral patterns.

The goals of this research are to elucidate the mechanisms by which coccolithophores control the formation of their calcified scales. This will involve investigating how calcium ions are transported through to the intracellular compartment where the scales are produced; the mechanisms of crystal nucleation and growth; and the structure and surface chemistry of the base plates – the substrates that promote the nucleation of the calcite crystals. [3]. We will use a combination of cryo-transmission electron microscopy and tomography and super-resolution microscopy to identify the key features that are responsible for promoting the nucleation of nano-crystals of calcium carbonate and their assembly, ultimately controlling the overall coccolith shape.

Training: The supervisory team of this project merges expertise in chemistry/biomineralisation (FN) and super-resolution microscopy (MH), which, in addition to training in scientific research and analytical methods, will ensure the acquisition of skills in several areas, including electron microscopy and crystallography, cellular biology techniques and super-resolution microscopy.


1. Young. J. R. et al. Coccolith ultrastructure and biomineralisation. J. Struct. Biol. 126, 195 (1999).

2. Monteiro, F. M. et al. Why marine phytoplankton calcify. Science Adv. 2, e1501822 (2016).

3. Marzec, B. et al. Three-dimensional architecture and surface functionality of coccolith base plates. J. Struct. Biol. 208, 127-136 (2019).

Application Process:

To apply for an EASTBIO PhD studentship, follow the instructions below:

·        Informal enquiries should be addressed to Dr Fabio Nudelman. To apply, please send a cover letter outlining your previous research experience and reasons for applying, alongside an up-to-date CV to [Email Address Removed]

·        After you have discussed the projects of interest to you with Dr Fabio Nudelman, download and complete our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion survey and then fill in the EASTBIO Application Form and submit this to Dr Nudelman.

·        Send the EASTBIO Reference Form to your two academic/professional referees, and ask your referees to submit your references directly to Dr Fabio Nudelman [Email Address Removed]

We anticipate that our first set of interviews will be held 6th – 10th February 2023.

If you have further queries about the application/recruitment process please contact EASTBIO

The School of Chemistry holds a Silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of our commitment to advance gender equality in higher education. The University is a member of the Race Equality Charter and is a Stonewall Scotland Diversity Champion, actively promoting LGBT equality. The University has a range of initiatives to support a family friendly working environment. See our University Initiatives website for further information. University Initiatives website: https://www.ed.ac.uk/equality-diversity/help-advice/family-friendly

Funding Notes

UKRI-funded studentships are open to students worldwide and will cover tuition fees at the UK rate, plus a stipend to support living costs and an annual research grant of £5,000 for the first three years of the PhD research. Please note that UKRI has recently announced an increase of its minimum stipend levels in response to the ongoing cost of living crisis. The increased stipend of £17,668 full time equivalent has come into effect from the 1st of October 2022 and will apply, with annual increments, to the new intake of students starting in autumn 2023.

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