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Electron flows in cyanobacteria

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  • Full or part time
    Prof O Soyer
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Cyanobacteria are phototrophic organisms that are able to fix carbon using water as an electron acceptor source. They are found in almost all habitats where light can penetrate, and show an immense diversity, that is barely explored in its full extent.

The light harvesting abilities of cyanobacteria are also utilised in biotechnology, where they are used for production of chemicals from light1 and more recently for bioelectricity production2. Both applications ultimately utilise the metabolism of cyanobacteria, which enables electron transfer between substrates and sink molecules (or electrodes, in case of biophotovoltaics)3. In this project we are interested in studying cyanobacteria metabolism with this view based on electron flows.

We hypothesize that managing electron flux in cyanobacteria involves both metabolic excretions and phototaxis (positive and negative). We aim to study these processes and their possible interlinking under different environmental conditions. Among the ‘environmental conditions’, we also include the presence of electrodes, which can act as terminal electron acceptors from cyanobacteria and therefor influence their ability (and dynamics) of managing electron flows.

In this project, we will combine basic microbiology methods, with cutting-edge fluorescent microscopy, microfluidics, and electrochemical measurements. We will focus on two systems, one that is used as a classical model system in cyanobacteria research (Synechococcus) and one that is naturally isolated. The latter will focus on a filamentous freshwater cyanobacteria, belonging to Oscillatoria genus. Members of this genus are significantly under-studied, but the few studies conducted on them established that certain species form this genus display electrical properties on their filaments4,5, are able to form intricate patterns in response to light6, and display biotechnologically relevant metabolic capabilities7,8.

Key experimental skills involved: Fluorescent microscopy, microbiology, electrochemical measurements, microfluidics, metabolic measurements (e.g. using ion chromatography).

Keywords: Electrical biology, cyanobacteria, metabolic cycles, self-sustaining systems, Oscillatoria.

Funding Notes

Tuition fees in full at the Home/EU rate and an annual stipend of at least £14,777 for 3 years.


1. Engineering cyanobacteria to generate high-value products. Ducat, D. C., Way, J. C., & Silver, P. A. (2011). Trends Biotechnol, 29(2), 95–103.
2. Electricity generation from digitally printed cyanobacteria. Sawa, M., Fantuzzi, A., Bombelli, P., Howe, C. J., Hellgardt, K., & Nixon, P. J. (2017). Nature Communications, 8(1), 1–9.
3. Interrogating metabolism as an electron flow system. Zerfaß, C., Asally, M., & Soyer, O. S. (2018). Current Opinion in Systems Biology. In press.
4. Light-dependent delta mu Na-generation and utilization in the marine cyanobacterium Oscillatoria brevis; Brown II. FEBS Lett. 1990
5. Coupling membranes as energy-transmitting cables. II. Cyanobacterial trichomes; Severina II. J Cell Biol. 1988
6. Envelope structure of four gliding filamentous cyanobacteria; Hoiczyk E. J Bacteriol. 1995
7. The genome sequence of the cyanobacterium Oscillatoria sp. PCC 6506 reveals several gene clusters responsible for the biosynthesis of toxins and secondary metabolites; Méjean A. J Bacteriol. 2010
8. Largamides A-H, unusual cyclic peptides from the marine cyanobacterium Oscillatoria sp; Plaza A. J Org Chem. 2006

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