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Engineering bacteria to harvest electrons (CLARKEU20DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, November 25, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Carbon fixation is an important biological process that removes the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The best-known mechanism for doing this is photosynthesis, which requires a source of electrons. These electrons can be harvested from reduced iron in the environment and by replacing the iron with an electrode it could be possible to build microbial electrochemical systems that power bacterial metabolism and carbon fixation.

Recently we solved the structure of a protein ‘nanowire’ (Pictured) that allows the flow of electrons across the outer membrane. The structure allows us to build models of the homologous nanowires that occur in photosynthetic iron oxidising bacteria and use these models to understand how they may differ in their ability to trap electrons inside the cell.

This project aims to understand the key difference between nanowire from photosynthetic and non-photosynthetic organisms with a view to optimising photosynthetic electron transfer. Initially molecular biology techniques such as site directed mutagenesis will be used to change key residues in the nanowire structure. Spectroscopy, electrochemistry and proteoliposomes will then be used to determine how these changes affect the nanowire.

This PhD will be supervised by Dr Tom Clarke in collaboration with Prof. Julea Butt. Depending on the direction of the project the student may collaborate with reseachers at the University of Minnesota to characterise alternative nanowires from other bacteria.

Informal enquiries can be made to Dr Tom Clarke ().

Project supervisor:
Project sponsor: Norwich Research Park Bioscience Doctoral Training Partnership
Type of programme: PhD
Start date: 1 October 2020
Mode of study: Full-time
Studentship length: 4 years


- First degree (2:1 or above) in relevant subject
- English language (IELTS 6.5 overall, 6 in each section)


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the Norwich Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP). Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed as part of the studentship competition. Candidates will be interviewed on either the 7th, 8th or 9th January 2020.

The NRP DTP offers postgraduates the opportunity to undertake a 4-year research project whilst enhancing professional development and research skills through a comprehensive training programme. You will join a vibrant community of world-leading researchers. All NRPDTP students undertake a three-month professional internship (PIPS) during their study. The internship offers exciting and invaluable work experience designed to enhance professional development. Full support and advice will be provided by our Professional Internship team. Students with, or expecting to attain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply.

For further information and to apply, please visit our website:

Funding Notes

For funding eligibility guidance, please visit our website: View Website. Full Studentships cover a stipend (2019/0 rate: £15,009pa), research costs and tuition fees at UK/EU rate and are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.

Students from EU countries who do not meet the UK residency requirements may be eligible for a fees-only award. Students in receipt of a fees-only award will be eligible for a maintenance stipend awarded by the NRPDTP Bioscience Doctoral Scholarships. To be eligible students must meet the EU residency requirements.

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