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Genome mining of novel antimicrobial and antiviral natural products from new bacterial strains

   Department of Chemistry

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  Dr H Deng, Dr L Trembleau  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world. In Europe alone, drug-resistant bacteria are estimated to cause 25,000 deaths annually and cost more than US$1.5 billion every year in healthcare expenses and productivity losses.

In the meantime, Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that circulate and evolve among various animals. They can cause mild human illnesses such as the common cold or more serious respiratory diseases as seen in the recent outbreaks of SARS (2002), MERS (2012), and COVID-19 (2019). There are currently no effective treatments or vaccines against these viruses and the possible emergence of even more dangerous strains in the future is a cause for great concerns.

This is against the backdrop that the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries are investing less and less in antibiotic and antiviral discovery due to the challenges and complexities in the process, the difficulty and unpredictability of gaining regulatory approval and low profit margins.

The accompanying loss of the expertise in the sector only elevates the threat in the battle with AMR. Therefore we face severe challenges of a clear and urgent need for new classes of antimicrobials and antiviral agents.

The discovery of natural products, an important source of human medicines, is critical for the development of new therapeutics against multidrug-resistant pathogens. Many have suggested that the solution lies in genomics and focusing research efforts on strains that encode genes for the biosynthesis of uncharacterized natural products can dereplicate, streamline, and accelerate the discovery process.

This project is designed to maximise the chance of harnessing a group of previously underexploited antimicrobial natural products using available genomic data and new cultivation technology. We have recently isolated several novel actinomycete strains from geologically unique regions in the world. The genomes of these strains have been sequenced and the bioinformatics analysis indicated that these strains have a huge reservoir for new antimicrobial natural product discovery. We discovered several new bioactive compounds and their related biosynthetic pathways in these bacteria through data mining, genetic manipulation, protein overexpression and enzymology studies.

Research objectives: 1. Metabolic profile of the extracts from these cultures to identify the potential producer of antimicrobials using new cultivation technology and genome mining analysis. 2. Identification and isolation of these unknown antimicrobial/antiviral compounds for structural elucidation; 3. Development of genetic method to confirm the identity of the identified gene cluster in these bacterial strains. 4. Characterization of novel tailoring enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of these drug-like metabolites.

Selection will be made on the basis of academic merit. The successful candidate should have, or expect to obtain, a UK Honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent) in Organic chemistry, microbiology or biochemistry or bioorganic chemistry.  

This is a cross-disciplinary project involving elements of organic chemistry, molecular biology and protein chemistry. In this project, you will gain experience in chemical synthesis of small molecules, cloning genes for heterologous expression, as well as using the purified enzymes to carry out biotransformation reactions. You will learn chemical characterization by LC-MS and NMR analyses. You will gain experience in organic chemistry, microbiology.


Formal applications can be completed online:

• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry

• State name of the lead supervisor as the Name of Proposed Supervisor

• State ‘Self-funded’ as Intended Source of Funding

• State the exact project title on the application form

When applying please ensure all required documents are attached:

• All degree certificates and transcripts (Undergraduate AND Postgraduate MSc-officially translated into English where necessary)

• Detailed CV, Personal Statement/Motivation Letter and Intended source of funding

Informal inquiries can be made to Dr H Deng ([Email Address Removed]) with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Postgraduate Research School ([Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

This PhD project has no funding attached and is therefore available to students (UK/International) who are able to seek their own funding or sponsorship. There are Additional Research Costs of £6,000 per annum attached to this project in addition to tuition fees and living expenses. Supervisors will not be able to respond to requests to source funding. Details of the cost of study can be found by visiting


1. Huang et al. Angew Chemie Int. Ed., 2015, 54, 12697.
2. Huang et al. Chem. Biol. 2015, 22, 1633.
3. Zhou et al. Cell Chem. Biol. 2019, 26, 737
4. Wang et al., Angew Chemie Int. Ed., 2021, 60, 3229.
5. Baek et al. Science, 2021, 10.1126/science.abj8754
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