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Evolution Education Trust PhD project - The evolution of eukaryotic gene order: Following the birth, life and death of a eukaryotic gene cluster

Project Description

The University of Bath is inviting applications for this PhD opportunity based at the Milner Centre for Evolution, a unique, cross-faculty research centre bridging biology, health and education. The Centre is dedicated to a broad range of fundamental research questions relating to evolutionary biology; from in deep time to the micro-evolutionary dynamics of a disease outbreak. We have a strong focus on public engagement and outreach. We are located in a dedicated multi-million-pound building that opened on the University campus in September 2018. Visit our website: https://www.bath.ac.uk/research-centres/milner-centre-for-evolution/.

Project Overview:

How are genes ordered along chromosomes? Does optimised gene order contribute to improved biotechnological exploitation of microbial metabolism? These are the questions at the heart of this PhD project that combines experimental evolution, genetics and genomics as well as biotechnology to improve our fundamental understanding of eukaryotic genome evolution and to generate better heterologous hosts for natural product biosynthesis.

Fungi and yeast produce a vast variety of specialised (or ‘secondary’) metabolites. These metabolites are major sources of pharmaceuticals and higher-value compounds. The genes for the synthesis of these molecules are predominantly organized in clusters of neighbouring genes. This genetic organisation is the exception that proves the rule in eukaryotic genomes. It remains unknown how and why these gene clusters come about.

This PhD project aims to tackle this fundamental evolutionary question by investigating the birth, life and death of a metabolic gene cluster of biotechnological importance in yeast. You will be trained in in depth bioinformatic genome analysis to follow the historic evolution metabolic gene cluster across bacteria, fungi and yeast. These analyses will be accompanied by an experimental evolution approach to optimise natural product formation in a producer yeast and parallel monitoring of the plasticity of cluster organisation. Furthermore, to study the birth of a gene cluster, you will transfer metabolic pathway genes into a non-producing yeast and follow its evolutionary path over multiple generations.

Our overarching long-term goal is to uncover the principles in eukaryotic genome organisation and to optimise biotechnological processes for natural product biosynthesis.

For more information on the research of Dr Nützmann, see https://researchportal.bath.ac.uk/en/persons/hans-wilhelm-n%C3%BCtzmann.


Applicants should have an excellent academic record and hold, or expect to obtain, a First Class or high Upper Second Class UK Honours degree (or the equivalent) in a relevant subject. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Enquiries and Applications:

All enquiries should be addressed to Dr Hans-Wilhelm Nützmann, .

** Candidates are strongly encouraged to discuss projects directly with the lead supervisor before submitting an application.**

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biology:

On the application form, please ensure that you quote ‘Evolution Education Trust’ in the Finance section and the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section. Should you wish to be considered for more than one project, quote the projects in order of preference and upload a separate personal statement relevant to each one.

It is essential that your application is complete when you submit it to us. Incomplete applications cannot be considered. You should ensure that you have completed all fields on the application form and supplied the contact details of TWO referees who are available and willing to provide us with a reference when requested (one must be from your most recent place of study). In addition, you should ensure that you have uploaded the following documents:
• a scanned copy of the certificate/s for any degree/s you have been awarded;
• a scanned copy of your degree transcript/s or your interim transcript if you are still studying;
• an up-to-date CV;
• a personal statement explaining your motivation for wishing to study a PhD and your interest in the specific project for which you are applying;
• English language test certificate (if available) for EU candidates.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here:

Interviews will take place in Bath on Friday 3 April 2020.

Anticipated start date: 28 September 2020.

Unfortunately, we are NOT able to consider international applicants for this project.

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project will be considered for a 3.5-year Evolution Education Trust Studentship which will cover UK/EU tuition fees, a tax-free maintenance allowance at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£15,009 for 2019/20) and a generous budget for research, training and outreach expenses.

Note: Only UK and EU applicants are eligible for studentship funding.

How good is research at University of Bath in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.50

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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