Proteins are responsible for a vast range of biological functions. The ability to modify proteins in a rational manner yielded advanced therapeutics which top the list of the most commercially successful medicines (1). Yet we are only beginning to learn how to exploit the directed protein evolution (2) and how to engineer proteins or other biopolymers with the pre-determined structure or functions. One of the most interesting yet least developed areas of protein engineering research concerns the development of stimuli-sensitive molecules for therapeutic, biotechnology and materials applications. This project will address these needs.
To this end we developed a number of thermo-responsive protein-based systems and characterised them using biochemical and biophysical techniques (3-5). A common feature of these proteins is their ability to self-assemble in a sequence-specific manner and then disassemble in response to thermal stimuli. Another two systems under development are pH and voltage sensitive proteins. Combining such molecular systems with sensitive elements such as magnetic or elastic nanoparticles, light excitable groups, chemically modifiable groups and their combinations yields highly tuneable stimuli-responsive biomaterials suitable for a variety of life science and therapeutic applications.
The key aim of this research PhD project is to create molecular systems capable of changing their physical or molecular properties in response to external stimuli such as ultrasound, thermal, mechanical, chemical or direct electric stimulation. The project will use a combination of cutting-edge molecular biology, biochemical and biophysical methods to create new stimuli-responsive biomaterials by combining multiple stimuli-specific sensors with functional protein biologics and to test physical, chemical and biological properties of the newly generated smart composite biomaterials.
The research will be based in the Department Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London (6). This project will be run in collaboration with The Diamond Light Source at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Oxfordshire, and the University of Lincoln.
We are looking for high calibre students who have a Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or an equivalent qualification. A master’s degree or research experience in biochemistry, biophysics, molecular biology or a related subject would be advantageous. The candidate should have experience of practical laboratory work as well as having successfully completed a research project. English language requirements for Postgraduate Research degrees: IELTS 6.5 overall, writing 7.0, no other subscores lower than 5.5. Please refer to the following link on how to apply: https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/studying-here/applying/postgraduate/how-to-apply/
When applying and in all correspondence, specify the project Title, project code (BiolSci2021-MS) and mention this Find-a-PhD advert. Shortlisted candidates will be contacted by the end of May. Interviews will be held online in the first week of June or shortly thereafter. Project supervisors welcome informal project enquiries via Find-a-PhD email.
(1) Top 200 Medicines
(2) The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2018
(3) Ferrari, E et al. Bioconj. Chem. 23(3):479-484, 2012 https://doi.org/10.1021/bc2005208
(4) Ma W et al. (2018) Nature Communications 9, 1489 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-03931-4
(5) Saccardo, A et al. Biomater. Sci. 8(9):2673-2681, 2020 https://doi.org/10.1039/C9BM01957J