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Engineering of Halomonas to develop a robust microbial chassis for renewable bio-LPG and bioplastics production.

Project Description

Dual award PhD in Synthetic and Systems Biology - Manchester and Tsinghua University.

The University of Manchester and China’s Tsinghua University have come together to offer a unique dual degree PhD programme in Synthetic and Systems Biology, with successful applicants spending four life-changing years across Manchester and Beijing. The first-of-its-kind dual award PhD programme brings together two globally-renowned institutions at the forefront of research in this area: the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) at The University of Manchester, and the Center for Synthetic and Systematic Biology (CSSB) at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.

Students will spend two years at Manchester and two years at Tsinghua University, with supervisors in both locations. At the end of the four-year full-time programme, you will receive a dual PhD, one award and two certificates.

Project Description:
The commercial success of sustainable and renewable microbial solutions to chemicals manufacture requires cost-effective alternatives to traditional fermentation strategies. Halomonas is a robust microbial ‘chassis’ known to produce the bioplastics precursor poly(3-hydroxybutyrate-co-4-hydroxybutyrate or PHB at industrial scale. It grows in non-sterile seawater on waste biomaterials (e.g. biodiesel waste glycerin or whey from cheese making), with up to an 80% reduction in traditional fermentation costs. To further increase the prospects for commercial viability, this project aims to incorporate an additional pathway into Halomonas coding for blue light dependent bio-LPG production (bio-propane and bio-butane blends) from waste biomass. This secondary process will be controlled independent of PHB production using a novel light inducible system (optogenetics). Chromosomal integration of the secondary pathway will generate a stable dual purpose Halomonas strain without the requirement for antibiotic selection for phenotype maintenance. Further improvements in bioprocess productivity will be obtained by the genomic incorporation of the bacterial haemoglobin VHb. This will enable oxygen scavenging by Halomonas under low oxygen conditions, leading to accelerated growth and improved PHB/bio-LPG titres. To reduce the costs of downstream processing, Halomonas will be engineered to enable it to self-flocculate (clump together), reducing centrifugation requirements and wastewater generation. This will be achieved by the chromosomal deletion of two electron transferring protein (etf) genes, which will increase the cell surface hydrophobicity and trigger flocculation. A two-stage bioreactor system will be designed to enable optimal production titres of PHB and bio-LPG in separate compartments. Fermentation optimisation studies will be performed to increase the overall productivity and cost effectiveness of the process.

Ultimately, a dual production chassis has the potential to enhance the techno-economics for PHB production and also LPG production and will help to tip the balance in favour of an economic solution for bioplastics and bio-LPG production.

Scrutton group:
Chen group:

Academic background of candidates
Applicants should hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum 2:1 bachelor’s degree (or overseas equivalent), a master’s degree (including an integrated masters degree) or extensive research experience - such as an industry placement - in a relevant discipline. Applicants can be internal or external to The University of Manchester. For applicants whose first language is not English, we require a minimum IELTS score of 6.5/TOEFL 90.

programme name: synbiodual

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year fully funded studentship covering tuition fees and stipend (£15,009 in 2019-20 while in Manchester, and a commensurate stipend while at Tsinghua). You will also receive an annual Research Training Support Grant towards project running costs/consumables while in Manchester, and flight allowance for travelling to Tsinghua will be covered.


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2) Tao W et al (2017) Microb Cell Fact 16:48
3) Hoeven R et al (2019) bioRxiv doi:
4) Sorigué, D et al (2017) Science 357:903
5) de Mena L et al (2018) Front Genet 9:518
6) Padmanabhan S et al (2019) Curr Opin Struct Biol 57:47
7) Ramakrishnan P et al (2016) ACS Synth Biol 5:733
8) Ouyang P et al (2018) Metab Eng 45:20
9) Ling C et al (2018) Biotechnol Bioeng 116:805.

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