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  Fully funded BBSRC CTP with Unilever PhD in Biology : Revealing the roles of the anaerobic skin microbiome in malodour production

   Department of Biology

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  Prof G H Thomas  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Lead supervisor: Prof. Gavin Thomas (UofY Biology)

Co-Supervisor: Prof Tony Wilkinson (UofY Chemistry), Dr Alan Cartmell (UofY Biology) and Dr Barry Murphey (Unilever)

The student will be registered with the Department of Biology

The production of malodour, also known as body odour (BO), is an ancient human trait that is mediated through co-evolution of humans with their skin microbiota. We have worked extensively with Unilever over the last decade to identify the bacteria responsible for the production of pungent thioalcohol components of BO by various Staphylococci and Corynebacteria that grow in our underarms (axilla). However, BO is a complex mixture of chemicals and volatile fatty acids (VFAs) form the second major class of molecules that contribute to recognisable BO. Our previous work in this area has identified species of Gram-positive anaerobic cocci (GPAC) as being responsible for VFA production, through the action of an intracellular enzyme on the odourless precursor secreted into our armpits. In this project we aim to study directly the GPAC present in real human axilla communities to establish their role in VFA production, and more broadly to consider their wide roles in these complex multispecies communities. You will join the Thomas group ( in the Department of Biology and collaborators Prof. Tony Wilkinson in the Department of Chemistry, who have together worked with Unilever for over a decade on the BO project and whom have co-supervised multiple PhD students successfully. The project will also include as a third supervisor, Dr. Alan Cartmell, an expert in the enzymology of anaerobic bacteria. In the project you will use a wide range of microbiological and biochemical approaches to understand how GPAC isolates from the human underarm contribute to VFA production. This will include genome sequencing of an in-house collection of GPAC-isolated axilla strains, phenotypic characterisation of these strains for VFA production and other growth characteristics. Using these data you will elucidate what features correspond to high VFA production across the collection and then study the transporters and enzymes responsible. You will join a cohort of students working with Unilever on their CTP and will have an opportunity to spend time in your project working in the Unilever laboratory at Port Sunlight near Liverpool. Historically, the nature of this project has also led to various opportunities for outreach and public engagement.

The Department of Biology is ranked in the top 10 overall in the UK for research excellence according to the Times Higher Education ranking of the latest REF results. We are committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills. We're exceptionally proud to have held an Athena SWAN Gold award since 2014 in recognition of our commitment.

Programme: PhD in Biology (4 years)

Start Date: 16th September 2024. 

We would encourage candidates to email the project supervisors a 2-page academic CV to discuss their suitability for the project before applying.


Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

Funded by . So regular 4 year funding with additional cohort training within the Unilever scheme.
This studentship is fully funded by BBSRC CTP with Unilever and covers: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard UKRI rate for doctoral students, (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees. The industry partner is Unilever.

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