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How biofilms protect themselves against bacteriophage infection and how they fail. BBSRC SWBio DTP PhD studentship 2023 Entry. PhD in Biosciences

   Department of Biosciences

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  Dr W Moebius, Dr Maisem Laabei  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The BBSRC-funded South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP) involves a partnership of world-renown universities, research institutes and industry across the South West and Wales.

This partnership represents a distinctive group of bioscientists, with established international, national and regional networks, and widely recognised research excellence.

We aim to provide students with outstanding interdisciplinary research training within the following themes, underpinned by transformative technologies:

These are growth areas of the biosciences and for which there will be considerable future demand.

The award:

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP). 

Programme Overview

You will be recruited to a broad, interdisciplinary project, supported by a multidisciplinary supervisory team, with many cross-institutional projects available. There are also opportunities to:

• apply your research in an industrial setting (DTP CASE studentships).

• undertake research jointly with our core and associate partners (Standard DTP studentships with an   


• work with other national/international researchers.

• undertake fieldwork.

Our structured training programme will ensure you are well equipped as a bioscience researcher, supporting careers into academia, industry and beyond. 

Project Description

The antibiotic resistance crisis leads to an increased interest in the use of bacteriophage, viruses of bacteria, to prevent and clear infections. But many bacteria live in biofilms, spatially extended structures of bacterial cells and extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). Although at first glance, such a dense population of cells should be particularly amenable to degradation by phages, life in the biofilm provides protection against bacteriophage predation.

To develop targeted phage cocktails to prevent and clear biofilms, we need a better understanding of how biofilms are protected against phages and how this protection fails: Is the EPS too dense for phage to disperse? Is there an ideal number of adsorption sites for phage? Once a phage infection starts within a biofilm, is it contained or does it spread locally? To answer these questions you will perform a combination of simulations and experiments that draw from microbiology and biological physics.

Early experiments, e.g., measuring how deeply phage T7 penetrates into a biofilm of E. coli, will allow you to build and parametrise a model of phage entering biofilms and infecting cells. The model then will make predictions about changes that occur when modifying the biofilm, which again can be tested experimentally again using E. coli and phage T7, but also S. aureus and phage K. Together, this will provide us with a quantitative understanding of how biofilms are protected against phages and which levers can be pulled to overcome this protection.

You will join a supervisory team and research groups in Exeter and Bath which are dedicated to combining traditional microbiology techniques with state of the art imaging as well as model building and simulations. The lead supervisor, Dr. Wolfram Möbius (Exeter) has a theoretical background and experience at the bench with bacteriophage T7, focusing with you on model development and simulations. The second supervisor, Dr. Maisem Laabei (Bath), is an expert in S. aureus and imaging and will guide your experimental work.

Additional supervisors/collaborators in Bath, Exeter, and Newcastle provide additional input on electron microscopy, biofilm simulations, phage cocktails and multispecies biofilms as applicable throughout the project. This ambitious project at the interface of microbiology and biophysics will provide you with a wide set of skills sought after in life science research and promises to increase our understanding of how to control biofilms.

Part Time and Flexible Study Options

Part time study options maybe available please discuss with the supervisor. For further information please see -

Due to complexities and restrictions associated with visas for part-time studies, we are currently unable to accept part-time international students to the programme.

Entry Requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Masters degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

In addition, due to the strong mathematical component of the taught course in the first year and the quantitative emphasis in our projects, quantitative/mathematical experience is needed. This can be demonstrated through one or more of the following:

  • Undertaking units as part of your degree that have a significant quantitative/mathematical component*
  • Maths or Physics A-level (grade B and above)

*Significant mathematical component examples include; maths, statistics, bioinformatics.

Applicants must ensure they highlight their quantitative/mathematical background within their application and to upload any supporting evidence.

To support accessibility to PhD training opportunities, these studentships are only available to applicants that have not previously obtained or about to obtain a PhD degree (or equivalent).

How to apply

The closing date for applications is midnight on Monday, 5 December 2022. Interviews will be held between 1st and 15th February 2023.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email [Email Address Removed].

Project-specific queries should be directed to the primary supervisor.

For further information and to submit an application please visit -

Selection Process:

Please note, the studentship selection process will take place in two stages:

For further information please go to -

Funding Notes

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover
• a stipend* (at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £17.668 per annum for 2022-23)
• research and training costs
• tuition fees (at the standard Research Councils UK rate)
• additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship
*An enhanced stipend is available for students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£24,789 per annum for 2022-2023). There may also be enhanced stipends associated with projects that have a CASE partner (CASE projects are highlighted as *CASE in the project lists).
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