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Engineering Enzymes for Industrial Biotechnology

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Our research group is interested in the identification, characterization and application of enzymes of interest to biotechnology. Biocatalytic processes offer many advantages over conventional catalysis as they are often superior in terms of selectivity, but also because they can operate under mild reaction conditions, and can replace toxic or hazardous reagents in a number of difficult chemical reactions. As a consequence, many industrial processes for the formation of pharmaceutical and agrochemical intermediates have now been established as part of manufacturing routes. However, the performance of natural enzymes is inherently constrained, as they have often evolved to transform perhaps only one substrate type, and only under certain conditions. These constraints can now be challenged very effectively using methods of enzyme engineering that have been developed in recent years.

In our group, new and interesting enzymes are identified, and then characterized using a range of biochemical techniques, including X-ray crystallography. We also use synthetic organic chemistry to prepare enzyme substrates and product standards. Once we have obtained the structure of an enzyme, we are in a good position to engineer the active site for improved or altered characteristics, including expanded substrate specificity, but maybe also increased thermostability or improved performance in the presence of organic solvents. We can also engineer enzymes using more random approaches, such as ‘directed evolution’. Many kinds of enzymes have been investigated by the group including Cytochromes P450 (P450s) and flavoenzymes (Figure) for a wide range of oxidation reactions, oxidoreductases, that perform selective reductions of carbonyl and imine groups, and many different enzymes for the preparation of chiral amines, one of the most important functional groups encountered in asymmetric pharmaceutical and agrochemical industrial synthesis.

While our enzyme targets change from year to year, and new projects are constantly introduced, you would, as part of any PhD study use techniques such as organic chemistry, PCR, gene expression and protein/enzyme analysis, protein crystallization and protein structure building and refinement, to characterise new enzyme transformations and obtain new structures. You will then use contemporary techniques in enzyme engineering to design and test better enzymes for process performance. Our projects are frequently performed in collaboration with industrial partners, so there is always excellent scope for interactions outside the laboratory.

All research students follow our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills. All research students take the core training package which provides both a grounding in the skills required for their research, and transferable skills to enhance employability opportunities following graduation. Core training is progressive and takes place at appropriate points throughout a student’s higher degree programme, with the majority of training taking place in Year 1. In conjunction with the Core training, students, in consultation with their supervisor(s), select training related to the area of their research.

Students appointed to these projects will be primarily supervised in the York Structural Biology Laboratory at York, and will be trained in gene cloning, construct engineering, heterologous expression, biotransformations, gene mutation and X-ray crystallography. The projects will also provide training in enzyme purification, enzyme assays using HPLC, GC and GCMS and may also involve organic synthesis and analysis. Students will also benefit from compulsory programmes of postgraduate study and skills training offered through the Departments of Chemistry and Biology at York, including literature skills, and frequent written and oral presentations.

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel. Chemistry at York was the first academic department in the UK to receive the Athena SWAN Gold award, first attained in 2007 and then renewed in October 2010 and in April 2015.

Funding Notes

This project is open to students who can fund their own studies or who have been awarded a scholarship separate from this project. The Chemistry Department at York is pleased to offer Wild Fund Scholarships to those from countries outside the UK. Wild Fund Scholarships offer up to full tuition fees for those from countries from outside the European Union. EU students may also be offered £6,000 per year towards living costs. For further information see: View Website

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of York in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 47.06

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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