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Evolution Education Trust PhD project: Unpacking the role of BOX elements in Streptococcus pneumoniae infection

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:

Project Overview:

The role of genomics in bacterial pathogenicity to date has mostly focused on SNPs and allelic variation in open reading frames. But what role does the rest of the genome that does not code for protein play in pathogenicity? The important human pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae is responsible for an estimated 500,000 infant deaths a year. Recent evidence has suggested that intergenic BOX elements in metabolic regions of the genome in S. pneumoniae play a role in post-transcriptional regulation and subsequently effect pathogenicity. This BOX element is present at ~100 copies in the S. pneumoniae genome, displaying evidence that it is providing some evolutionary advantage and is not a deleterious mutation. The observed association with a BOX element and pathogenicity has highlighted our lack of knowledge on its potentially very important role in general biology and infection. This project will thoroughly investigate the function and variation of BOX elements in S. pneumoniae using bioinformatics and molecular biology in collaboration with Harvard and the University of Lausanne. Research visits to collaborating labs will be undertaken by the student to learn relevant skills for the project.

For more information about the research of Dr Cowley, see


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 Lauren Cowley, .

** 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.


Further reading:

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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