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Harnessing photoheterotrophic metabolism to convert methane into biopolymers

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 15, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Project Description
This project aims to develop a biotechnology platform for new methane-derived product markets whilst significantly improving the efficiency of methane bio-oxidation (methanotrophy). Conventional biotechnologies utilising methane have poor economic returns; a result of low product yields, a limited range of commercialisable end-products, and high operational costs (including elevated H&S risk profiles). Our central hypothesis is that light energy can be incorporated into methane gas fermentations, thereby improving metabolic productivity. Whilst metabolically feasible, utilising light to promote methanotrophy (photomethanotrophy) represents an unproven microbial metabolism. Through a combination of careful enrichment, bioreaction-engineering and genomic assessment, this PhD project will investigate the coupling of aerobic methane oxidation with bacterial anoxygenic (non-oxygen producing) photosynthesis.

This doctoral research project is part of a larger MBIE-funded programme entitled “Harnessing photoheterotrophic metabolism to convert methane into biopolymers” that aims to develop a biotechnology platform utilising waste methane to create value-added products. The MBIE project is a collaboration between the Crown Research Institute Scion ( and the University of Canterbury’s Department of Chemical and Process Engineering and the School of Biological Sciences. In conjunction with ambitious scientific outcomes, this project has strong commercial goals. The student will be working closely with the Environmental Technologies Team at Scion, who have long-standing experience in design and development of bioreaction engineering and enrichment of anoxygenic heterotrophic bacteria. The doctoral project will be based principally at Scion in Rotorua.

The Candidate
We are seeking an enthusiastic candidate to start as soon as possible with a strong experimental background in either bioprocess/bioreaction engineering or industrial microbiology to either Masters or Honours (first class) level.

About the Biomolecular Interaction Centre
The Biomolecular Interaction Centre (BIC) is a multi-disciplinary research centre at the University of Canterbury dedicated to the study of molecular interactions critical to biological function. Understanding these interactions is central to a range of fundamental sciences, new treatments for disease and a wide range of highly functional products. BIC offers an excellent training environment and state-of-the-art equipment. This project offers the opportunity to work on a commercially significant project, funded by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). The student will enrol in a PhD programme associated with the department of Chemical & Process Engineering.

Funding Notes
We are offering a stipend of NZD $27,000 per year (tax free) plus tuition fees for three years. Funding is also available to cover research project consumable costs. Note: the successful candidate will need to apply to enrol at the University of Canterbury and must meet UC’s entry criteria. International candidates will also need to meet the English language requirements and, once given an offer of place, arrange for a NZ student visa. Information on UC’s entry requirements for PhD study is here

Applicants please email using the subject line “Photomethanotrophy PhD” with your CV, including at least two academic referees, a statement of your research interests/experience and your university transcripts. Feel free to ask any questions you may have relating to this PhD project.

Applications will close 15 January 2019, or prior, if a suitable candidate is found.
Supervisors: Dr Carlo Carere (BIC/Department of Chemical and Process Engineering), Dr Matthew Stott (BIC/School of Biological Sciences), Dr Daniel Gapes (Scion), Dr John Andrews (Scion).

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