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  Exploring essential nutrient transport in animal-microbe symbiosis

   Faculty of Medical Sciences

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  Prof D Thwaites, Prof G Hurst, Dr Catriona Anderson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Understanding how symbiotic relationships between microorganisms and host animals are maintained is key to our understanding of how the physiology, evolutionary processes, ecological dynamics and, ultimately, survival of host animals is influenced.

Animals rely on microbes to fulfil vital biological functions such as the production of essential nutrients. For example, symbiotic bacteria in many insects supply their host with essential amino acids lacking in the host’s diet. These insect-microbe relationships have evolved over millions of years and often neither the insect nor microbe can survive independently of the other partner. However, the molecular mechanisms which enable the interactions between animals and their symbiotic microbiome are not yet well understood. Insects and their obligatory microorganisms not only provide excellent models to better understand these tightly controlled processes, but studying such models also enables the development of novel strategies for disease control, crop protection and food biosecurity.

The close symbiotic relationship found in insects relies on multiple vital nutrients being moved between the insect and its bacteria giving rise to questions as to how the host insect supplies the symbiotic bacteria with nutrients and how essential amino acids produced by the bacteria are delivered to the host insect. Little is known as to the identity and function of the nutrient transport proteins (transporters) which mediate this nutrient movement. However, we have found that candidate proteins are distantly related to many human transporters of known function.

This research project will investigate nutrient transporters using complementary laboratory (molecular, biochemical, physiological) and computational techniques in host insect-microbe models of symbiosis such as the aphid and the symbiont Buchnera aphidicola. You will be trained in techniques including functional transport measurements (radiotracer fluxes, electrophysiology), immunocytochemical staining of insect tissues, molecular modelling, protein expression and insect culture.

You will be based in the laboratory of Prof. David Thwaites, a transporter biologist within the Biosciences Institute at Newcastle University and will also spend time in the laboratories of Prof. Greg Hurst (Institute of Infection, Veterinary & Ecological Sciences, University of Liverpool) and Dr Catriona Anderson (School of Natural & Environmental Sciences, Newcastle University). You will be part of a wider multidisciplinary team of insect, microbe and plant (crop) researchers at Newcastle University.


Applications should be made by emailing [Email Address Removed] with:

·        a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees);

·        a covering letter – clearly stating your first choice project, and optionally 2nd ranked project, as well as including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project(s) and at the selected University;

·        copies of your relevant undergraduate degree transcripts and certificates;

·        a copy of your IELTS or TOEFL English language certificate (where required);

·        a copy of your passport (photo page).

A GUIDE TO THE FORMAT REQUIRED FOR THE APPLICATION DOCUMENTS IS AVAILABLE AT Applications not meeting these criteria may be rejected.

In addition to the above items, please email a completed copy of the Additional Details Form (as a Word document) to [Email Address Removed]. A blank copy of this form can be found at:

Informal enquiries may be made to [Email Address Removed]

The deadline for all applications is 12noon on Monday 9th January 2023. 

Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4) Medicine (26)

Funding Notes

Studentships are funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for 4 years. Funding will cover tuition fees at the UK rate only, a Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) and stipend. We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


(2019) Trading amino acids at the aphid/Buchnera symbiotic interface. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 116: 16003-16011.
(2022) Symbiopectobacterium purcellii, gen. nov., sp. nov., isolated from the leafhopper Empoasca decipiens. Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol. 72: doi: 10.1099/ijsem.0.005440.
(2021) Transitions in symbiosis: evidence for environmental acquisition and social transmission within a clade of heritable symbionts. The ISME Journal 15: 2956–2968.