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How does a bacterial pathogen use natural products to infect plants? (TRUMAN_J22DTP)

   Graduate Programme

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  Dr A Truman  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Bacteria have evolved the ability to produce natural products with potent bioactivities, which makes these compounds excellent candidates as medicines and agrochemicals. Actinobacteria are particularly “talented” at producing natural products (also known as specialised metabolites), including the majority of clinically used classes of antibiotics, as well as many other compounds used across medicine and agriculture. However, surprisingly little is known about when and why these molecules are made in nature. The aim of this project is to understand how an agriculturally important bacterium uses specialised metabolites to infect plants.

This project will focus on a plant-associated actinobacterial pathogen, and will span microbiology, genetics, mass spectrometry, natural product chemistry and plant science. The project will lead to the discovery of new natural products, as well as understanding the mechanism of their activity towards plants or other microbes. This multidisciplinary project will be based in the laboratory of Dr Andrew Truman in the Department of Molecular Microbiology at the John Innes Centre, which has world-class facilities for bacterial genetics and natural product biosynthesis. Further expertise is provided by secondary supervisor Prof. Barrie Wilkinson (John Innes Centre), who is an expert in studying the biosynthesis and ecology of antibiotic production by Actinobacteria. 

This project provides an exciting opportunity to discover new bioactive molecules and develop skills across biology and chemistry, including the purification and structural elucidation of natural products. Applications are welcomed from students across the biological and chemical sciences who have a desire to work on a multidisciplinary project.

The Norwich Research Park Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP) is open to UK and international candidates for entry October 2021 and offers postgraduates the opportunity to undertake a 4-year PhD research project whilst enhancing professional development and research skills through a comprehensive training programme. You will join a vibrant community of world-leading researchers. All NRPDTP students undertake a three-month professional internship placement (PIPS) during their study. The placement offers exciting and invaluable work experience designed to enhance professional development. Full support and advice will be provided by our Professional Internship team. Students with, or expecting to attain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the NRPDTP programme. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on Tuesday 25th January, Wednesday 26th January and Thursday 27th January 2022.

Visit our website for further information on eligibility and how to apply: https://biodtp.norwichresearchpark.ac.uk/

Our partners value diverse and inclusive work environments that are positive and supportive. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Funding Notes

This project is awarded with a 4-year Norwich Research Park Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP) PhD studentship. The studentship includes payment of tuition fees (directly to the University), a stipend for each year of the studentship (2021/2 stipend rate: £15,609), and a Research Training Support Grant for each year of the studentship of £5,000 p.a.


1. Eyles, T. H., Vior, N. M., Lacret, R. & Truman, A. W. Understanding thioamitide biosynthesis using pathway engineering and untargeted metabolomics. Chem. Sci. 12, 7138–7150 (2021).
2. Heine, D., Holmes, N. A., Worsley, S. F., Santos, A. C. A., Innocent, T. M., Scherlach, K., Patrick, E. H., Yu, D. W., Murrell, J. C., Vieria, P. C., Boomsma, J. J., Hertweck, C., Hutchings, M. I. & Wilkinson, B. Chemical warfare between leafcutter ant symbionts and a co-evolved pathogen. Nat. Commun. 9, 2208 (2018).
3. Leipoldt, F., Santos-Aberturas, J., Stegmann, D. P., Wolf, F., Kulik, A., Lacret, R., Popadić, D., Keinhörster, D., Kirchner, N., Bekiesch, P., Gross, H., Truman, A. W. & Kaysser, L. Warhead biosynthesis and the origin of structural diversity in hydroxamate metalloproteinase inhibitors. Nat. Commun. 8, 1965 (2017).
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