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Imaging the cell nucleus using expansion microscopy

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, February 07, 2020
  • Awaiting Funding Decision/Possible External Funding
    Awaiting Funding Decision/Possible External Funding

Project Description

Applications are invited for a PhD studentship jointly-supervised by Dr Rob Neely (School of Chemistry) and Prof Jo Morris (Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences) at the University of Birmingham.

This PhD will focus on the development of expansion microscopy to image genomic DNA in a cell’s nucleus and those proteins that bind this DNA in response to DNA damage. This process is important for maintaining a healthy cell and is a pathway that is targeted by several cancer therapeutics. (1) In order to better understand the DNA damage response, we’d like to be able to generate high-resolution images of the protein complexes, such as those formed by the breast and ovarian cancer predisposition protein BRCA1, that assemble in order to repair DNA damage, in the cell. To do this, we will use an approach known as ‘expansion microscopy’.(2) This technique has seen limited application in the nuclei of cells and so we will initially focus on understanding the physical response of genomic DNA to expansion. Subsequently, we will apply this knowledge to investigate the nanoscale architecture of the DNA damage response machinery.

The successful candidate will work across the traditional boundaries of the sciences, with the groups of Prof Jo Morris and Dr Rob Neely. You will learn cell culture and staining for microscopy, molecular biology, the technique of expansion microscopy combined with state-of-the-art microscopes as well as developing some basic image analysis. Candidates must have a degree in chemistry or a relevant, related discipline at the upper second class level and bring an interest in microscopy and an enthusiasm for learning to the project.

Applicants who are UK/EU nationals and hold or obtain a minimum of a good (>65%) upper second class or higher integrated UK masters (MSci/MChem) degree or equivalent in chemistry or a related subject are encouraged to apply. Students with a combination of a good UK or equivalent BSc degree followed by an MSc with >60% in all taught elements will also qualify.

More information on our current work can be found at the group website or by contacting Dr Rob Neely directly.

Funding Notes

Interested candidates should contact Dr Rob Neely in the first instance by email, attaching an up-to-date CV. A scholarship to cover University fees and provide maintenance at standard UKRI rates is provisionally available, though applications for this scholarship are through a competitive process.


1. Densham, R. M. et al. Human BRCA1-BARD1 ubiquitin ligase activity counteracts chromatin barriers to DNA resection. Nat Struct Mol Biol 23, 647–655 (2016).

2. Chen, F., Tillberg, P. W. & Boyden, E. S. Expansion microscopy. Science 347, 543–548 (2015).

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 28.00

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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