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Gaming the system: how bacterial pathogens steal food from commensals

Project Description

The mammalian gut is a complex environment where communities of bacteria
live together creating a robust microflora that protects us from infections.
Invading pathogens need to somehow interfere in these relationships to gain
access to nutrients otherwise used by the commensals. One important
nutrient for gut bacteria is sialic acid, which is provided by the host in the
mucin layer that lines the gut. One gut commensal has evolved a unique
mechanism to liberate sialic in a unique anhydro- form that only it can use
(Bell et al., 2019 Nature Microbiology in press). In this project, the student will
test the hypothesis that bacterial pathogens have got smart to this ‘unique’
mechanism, by evolving routes to scavenge the anhydro-sialic acid for
themselves to enable them to colonise the gut. The project will use a
biochemical, structural and microbiological method to characterise these
systems to understand if these pathogens can really ‘game the system’. The
work extends a collaboration with the Juge group (Quadrum Institute,
Norwich) where the anhydro-sialic acid process was discovered and gives the
student access to the York Structural Biology lab.

Funding Notes

This BBSRC White Rose DTP studentship is fully funded for four years and covers: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,009 estimated for 2020 entry), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate.


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 research project 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.

Interviews expected to take place on a date to be confirmed in February 2020.

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.37

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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