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Engineering Microbial Physiology through Polymer and Computational Sciences

Project Description

Recently, there has been an increasing use of polymers to interface with bacteria and other microorganisms, either to treat microbial infections, to prevent and control biofilm formation, or as a platform to grow and maintain microbial cultures for biotechnology. However, what is often overlooked in these applications is how bacteria adapt to the presence of these polymeric materials and how, more often than not, unwanted responses such as increased virulence are activated in the presence of these polymers. However, we have recently demonstrated that bacteria adapt to the presence of cationic polymers, often used as antimicrobials, activating non-targeted phenotypes, such as luminescence or biofilm formation (Angew. Chem. 2012, Nat Chem 2013, Chem. Sci. 2017, ACS Chem. Bio. 2018). In this project, we will develop the computation and experimental methodology to correlate how relevant polymer properties (e.g. charge, hydrophobicity) affect critical microbial phenotypes (biofilms, virulence).
We are looking for a highly motivated PhD candidate willing to work at the interface between chemistry, biology and computational sciences. Ideally, the candidate should have a degree in chemistry, or a related discipline. Experience in the synthesis and characterization of polymers is highly desired.
This project is highly multidisciplinary and involves a collaboration between Dr Paco Fernandez-Trillo (School of Chemistry) and Dr Sara Jabbari (School of Mathematics). The PhD candidate will work alongside another PhD student working in the development of computational models. Both PhD candidates will be trained in Microbiology and join a vibrant research team of chemists, pharmacists, biochemists and microbiologists.
For further details about the project, please contact Dr Fernandez-Trillo () or Sara Jabbari ().

Funding Notes

This Project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Leverhulme Doctoral Scholars will receive maintenance costs at Research Council rates and tuition fees at the rate for UK/EU students. In 2019/2020 the maintenance grant for full-time students was £15,002.99 per annum. International applicants who can pay the difference between the Home and International Fees would also be welcome to apply.
Please contact for details regarding funding and the application procedure.


1. Xue, X. et al. Synthetic Polymers for Simultaneous Bacterial Sequestration and Quorum Sense Interference. Angewandte Chemie Int Ed 50, 9852–9856 (2011).

2. Lui, L. T. et al. Bacteria clustering by polymers induces the expression of quorum-sensing-controlled phenotypes. Nature Chemistry 5, 1058–1065 (2013).

3. Perez-Soto, N. et al. Engineering microbial physiology with synthetic polymers: cationic polymers induce biofilm formation in Vibrio cholerae and downregulate the expression of virulence genes. Chem Sci 8, 5291–5298 (2017).

4. Perez-Soto, N., Creese, O., Fernandez-Trillo, F. & Krachler, A.-M. Aggregation of Vibrio cholerae by Cationic Polymers Enhances Quorum Sensing but Overrides Biofilm Dissipation in Response to Autoinduction. ACS Chemical Biology 13, 3021–3029 (2018).

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 28.00

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

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