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Engineered expansion of photosynthesis into the near-infrared

Project Description

Photosynthesis is the ultimate source of food and energy for almost all forms of life. Using sunlight as the energy input, photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere generating the oxygen and carbohydrate that support complex life.

To meet the demands of a more populated planet, crop yields need to double by 2050; improving the efficiency of photosynthesis by engineering crop plants is essential to achieve this. A major inefficiency of photosynthesis is that the pigment–protein complexes that absorb light are finely tuned to specific ranges of the solar spectrum, and thus do not effectively harvest the abundant photons at different wavelengths. The aims of this project are to engineer an oxygen-tolerant pathway for the synthesis of pigments absorbing in the far-red and near-infrared region of the spectrum, and to then transfer this pathway to the evolutionary ancestor of the plant chloroplast, cyanobacteria, to enhance energy capture in an oxygen-evolving organism. The project will reveal the routes to increased light capture efficiency, and the principles defined will be directly applicable to the engineering of crop plants to meet our future needs.

The successful candidate will receive extensive training in all relevant techniques as part of a collaborative, multidisciplinary research group, and will have access to world-leading facilities in the Institute of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool, and in the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle University.

Applications should be made by emailing with a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees), and a covering letter – clearly stating your first choice project, and optionally 2nd and 3rd ranked projects, as well as including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project(s) and at the selected University. Applications not meeting these criteria will be rejected.
In addition to the CV and covering letter, please email a completed copy of the Additional Details Form (Word document) to . A blank copy of this form can be found at: https://www.nld-dtp.org.uk/how-apply.
Informal enquiries may be made to

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year BBSRC studentship under the Newcastle-Liverpool-Durham DTP. The successful applicant will receive research costs, tuition fees and stipend (£15,009 for 2019-20). The PhD will start in October 2020. Applicants should have, or be expecting to receive, a 2.1 Hons degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. EU candidates must have been resident in the UK for 3 years in order to receive full support. Please note, there are 2 stages to the application process.


Biosynthesis of chlorophyll a in a purple bacterial phototroph and assembly into a plant chlorophyll-protein complex. (2016) ACS Synth Biol 5:948–954

Engineered biosynthesis of bacteriochlorophyll b in Rhodobacter sphaeroides. (2014) Biochim Biophys Acta 1837(10):1611–1616

Cryo-EM structure of the Blastochloris viridis LH1-RC complex at 2.9 Å. (2018) Nature 556:203–208

How oxygen reacts with oxygen-tolerant respiratory [NiFe]-hydrogenases. (2014) PNAS 111(18): 6606–6611

How the structure of the large subunit controls function in an oxygen-tolerant [NiFe]-hydrogenase. (2014) Biochemical Journal 458(3):449–458

Mechanism of hydrogen activation by [NiFe]-hydrogenases. (2016) Nature Chemical Biology 12:46–50

Structural mechanism of the active bicarbonate transporter from cyanobacteria. (2019) Nature Plants 5(11):1184–1193

Dissecting the native architecture and dynamics of cyanobacterial photosynthetic machinery. (2017) Molecular Plant 10(11):1434–1448

Engineering and modulating functional cyanobacterial CO2-fixing organelles. (2018) Frontiers in Plant Science 9:739

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