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Engineering and de novo design of CO2 metabolism in engineered microbial consortia as the next generation platform to produce high value chemicals

   School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr Leonardo Rios, Prof M Cann  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Global shift to sustainability has driven the exploration of alternative feedstocks beyond sugars for biomanufacturing. Genetically engineered cyanobacteria offer a shortcut to convert CO2 and H2O directly into high value chemicals using sunlight, which greatly reduces net greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, industrial applications are scarce as the productivity of cyanobacteria to synthetise non-native high value chemical has been limited in comparison with other chassis.

This proposal will firstly aim to tackle this bottleneck by proposing to complement the low weakness of cyanobacteria, by coupling the production sequentially with the engineered yeast for the construction of synthetic microbial communities where one member of the community would be a natural CO2 utiliser, sharing the fixed carbon with heterotrophs engineered to produce high value chemicals.

Finally, the second objective of this PhD proposal will seek to radically design de novo CO2 utilization in E. coli and yeast species. We will leverage the expertise and recent discovery from the second PI about the CO2 metabolism and proteins involved in the electronic transfer of energy, with the synthetic biology/metabolic engineering expertise of the first PI to incorporate CO2 metabolism into E. coli and yeast species already capable of producing high value products. In order to fulfil these objectives, the student will apply rational metabolic engineering tools to further improve CO2 utilization in selected microbial chassis, leveraging the latest computational approaches for metabolic pathway design and enzyme engineering.

The outputs of this proposal could revolutionize the chemical industry, as the approach of combining cyanobacteria and yeast could be modular, allowing the community to produce in a sustainable and economical way diverse set of bulk compounds including biomaterials and biofuels. Finally, reconstructing CO2 metabolism from a bottom-up approach would greatly contribute towards our understanding of the biochemistry of CO2 utilization, opening up a radical opportunity to shift the feedstocks for biomanufacturing from sugar-based carbon to a sustainable, abundant non-food carbon source with low cost.

The research programme will offer considerable opportunities for the PhD student to develop their research expertise in metabolic engineering, synthetic biology, microscale bioreactors as well as a range of computational and analytical techniques associated such as metabolomics, transcriptomics and proteomics.

Finally, the student will also benefit from the Postgraduate Researcher Development Programme from the SAgE Faculty at Newcastle University, and The Durham Centre for Academic Development which both provide an extensive range of opportunities for postgraduate researchers to develop their knowledge and skills.


Applications should be made by emailing [Email Address Removed] with:

·        a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees);

·        a covering letter – clearly stating your first choice project, and optionally 2nd ranked project, 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;

·        copies of your relevant undergraduate degree transcripts and certificates;

·        a copy of your IELTS or TOEFL English language certificate (where required);

·        a copy of your passport (photo page).

A GUIDE TO THE FORMAT REQUIRED FOR THE APPLICATION DOCUMENTS IS AVAILABLE AT Applications not meeting these criteria may be rejected.

In addition to the above items, please email a completed copy of the Additional Details Form (as a Word document) to [Email Address Removed]. A blank copy of this form can be found at:

Informal enquiries may be made to [Email Address Removed]

The deadline for all applications is 12noon on Monday 9th January 2023. 

Funding Notes

Studentships are funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for 4 years. Funding will cover tuition fees at the UK rate only, a Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) and stipend. We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


Toward sustainable jet fuels: bioconversion of cellulose into isoprenoid biojet candidates using rumen bacteria and non-conventional yeast. 2022. Bioresource Technology. In press
ACtivE: Assembly and CRISPR-targeted in vivo Editing for Yeast 2 Genome Engineering Using Minimum Reagents and Time. 2022. ACS Synthetic Biology. Epub ahead of print
Allophycocyanin A is a carbon dioxide receptor in the cyanobacterial phycobilisome. 2022. Nature Communications, 13 . p. 5289
Enhanced production of taxadiene in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. 2021. Microbial Cell Factories. 19 (1) 12
A methodology for carbamate post-translational modification discovery and its application in Escherichia coli. 2021. Interface Focus, 11 (2). p. 20200028.
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