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EPRSRC Industrial Case Award with GlaxoSmithKline: PhD Studentship in Determination of the Active set of Elementary Flux Modes (EFMs) using Metabolic Flux Data

Project Description

Number of awards:

Start date and duration:
September 2019 for 4 years.

Imagine you have a car and plan to go from A to B, say Brussels to Paris. Using a paper map you might identify several routes, the number of alternative routes being almost infinitely large. If you would analyze all routes that people have taken to go from Brussels to Paris, you will end up with a finite set. Ideally you would like to know the best route option dependent on the time of the day and the status of the routes (e.g. for planned road-works). A metabolic network which is transforming metabolites into energy, growth and (bi-) products can be considered a road-map with alternative routes corresponding to all the different possible pathways. Depending on the metabolites available in the medium (time for the traffic example) as well as the state of the cell (road-works) the cell will change the pathways that are involved in the conversion of the metabolites, and this is what we seek to understand in order to characterize cell cultivations (be it mammalian, insect, yeast or bacteria). If we had this understanding, we could design the medium to rationally boost or repress certain cell pathways/functions in order to produce a product of interest as efficiently as possible.

From a metabolic network alone, we can, in principle, compute all independent possible pathways through the cell, referred to as elementary flux modes (EFMs). The aim of this project is to compute the active set of EFMs for networks of genome scale size through use of experimental metabolic flux data from various experiments. We wish to investigate computational approaches that may be used to identify active sets of EFMs using biologically relevant constraints. This project would allow GSK and researchers world-wide to change the way we analyze experimental data from upstream cultivations. Improved process understanding will allow the development of novel operation strategies and/or could provide the means to allow for directed cell engineering.

GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals SA (Belgium) ( and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) (

Name of supervisor(s):
Dr Mark J. Willis ( and Dr Chris O’Malley (

Eligibility Criteria:
A minimum of a 2:1 degree in Chemical Engineering or related discipline.

The award is available to UK/EU applicants only. Depending on how you meet the EPSRC’s eligibility criteria (, you may be entitled to a full or a partial award.

How to apply:
You must apply through the University’s online postgraduate application system. To do this please ‘Create a new account’ (

You will need to:

insert the programme code 8030f in the programme of study section
select PhD Chemical Engineering – Chemical Engineering as the programme of study
insert the studentship code ENG044 in the studentship/partnership reference field
attach a covering letter and CV. The covering letter must state the title of the studentship, quote reference code ENG044 and state how your interests and experience relate to the project
attach degree transcripts and certificates and, if English is not your first language, a copy of your English language qualifications.

Funding Notes

Award covers tuition fees at UK/EU rate, an annual stipend of £15,009, plus an industrial top.

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