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Functional investigation of O-glycans during stem cell differentiation

Department of Chemistry

About the Project

Glycans are an important yet neglected part of cell physiology. They are enormously diverse in structure, ranging from single carbohydrates to long and complex polysaccharide structures, often linked to proteins or lipids, and are known to be essential for the development of eukaryotic organisms, but their specific roles are uncertain. This is at least in part due to our limited toolkit for probing glycan structures and functions as compared to nucleic acids and proteins, stemming from the non-templated nature of glycan biosynthesis. Furthermore, the study of individual glycans is complicated by their heterogenous and dynamic nature. Recent advances in glycan analytics have prompted a number of important hypotheses about individual glycan functions, for example about their involvement during stem cell differentiation. This project will take the next step in developing chemical tools for the specific manipulation of glycans in vivo to help address some of these hypotheses.

We will combine synthetic biology with synthetic chemistry to design glycan labelling tools that can be used to modify selected glycans in cells. Rather than the targeting of large glycan pools using existing methodology, we will be zooming in on specific glycan subtypes by developing a new tandem chemical labelling strategy. Biochemistry and stem cell biology will then be used to assess the nature of these alterations and their functional consequences on the differentiation of a mesenchymal stem cell model, thereby enabling studies into the roles of individual glycans in stem cell differentiation.

In addition to producing important insights about stem cell biology and glycobiology, this highly interdisciplinary PhD will provide excellent training in methods ranging from synthetic organic chemistry, mass spectrometry, protein biochemistry and molecular biology to advanced stem cell biology.

All Chemistry research students have access to our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills:

The White Rose DTP in Mechanistic Biology is 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.

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel: This PhD project is available to study full-time or part-time (50%) unless you require a student visa to study in the UK when you should check the restrictions of your visa.

This PhD will formally start on 1 October 2021. Induction activities will start on 27 September.

For more information about the project, click on the supervisor’s name above to email the supervisor. For more information about the application process or funding, please click on email institution

Funding Notes

This project is part of the BBSRC White Rose Doctoral Training Programme in Mechanistic Biology. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 4 years. The funding includes:

Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£15,285 full time for 2020/21)
UK tuition fees (£4,473 for 2021/22)
Research support and training charges (RSTC)

International candidates (including EU) will be considered however the fee difference would need to be covered from other sources. International tuition fees for 2021 entry is £22,250.

Not all projects will be funded; a limited number of strong candidates will be appointed via a competitive process.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions. If English is not your first language, you will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for your country. Please check our website:

HOW TO APPLY: Submit an application for a PhD in Biological Chemistry:
If you are applying for more than one PhD in Biological Chemistry project you do not need to submit separate applications but can list them on the same form. However, if you are applying for a PhD in Chemistry or a PhD in Mechanistic Biology, you will need to submit a separate application

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