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Improving Photosynthetic Efficiency - Engineering and Evolution of Light-Harvesting Complexes via Synthetic Biology

   Institute of Systems, Molecular and Integrative Biology

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Applications will be reviewed until a suitable candidate is appointed.

Photosynthesis is the ultimate source of food and energy for almost all forms of life. Using sunlight as the energy input, photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere generating the oxygen and carbohydrate that support complex life.

To meet the demands of a more populated planet, crop yields need to double by 2050; improving the efficiency of photosynthesis by engineering crop plants is essential to achieve this. A major inefficiency of photosynthesis is that the pigment–protein complexes that absorb light are finely tuned to specific ranges of the solar spectrum, and thus do not effectively harvest the abundant photons at different wavelengths. The aims of this project are to define the components needed to assemble foreign light-harvesting complexes in genetically-tractable bacteria, to use a combination of synthetic biology and directed evolution to tune their absorption properties, and to then transfer them to the evolutionary ancestor of the plant chloroplast, cyanobacteria, to enhance energy capture in an oxygen-evolving organism. The project will reveal the routes to increased light capture efficiency, and the principles defined will be directly applicable to the engineering of crop plants to meet our future needs.

Candidates should be highly motivated and hold/expect to hold a Masters’ degree or a BSc at first or high 2:1 class in biochemistry / molecular biology / microbiology or equivalent, and have experience of working in a laboratory.

The successful candidate will receive extensive training in all relevant techniques as part of the collaborative, multidisciplinary Photosynthesis, Plants & Energy research group, and will have access to world-leading facilities in the Institute of Systems, Molecular & Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool.

For any enquiries or to express your interest in applying please contact Dr Daniel Canniffe on:

Funding Notes

The project is open students of any nationality. It is UNFUNDED and applicants are encouraged to contact the Supervisor directly to discuss their application and the project.
Assistance will be given to those who are applying to international funding schemes.
The successful applicant will be expected to provide funding for tuition fees and living expenses as well as research costs of £10,000 per year.
A fee bursary may be available for well qualified and motivated applicants.
Details of costs can be found on the University website: View Website
A £2000 ISMIB Travel and Training Support Grant may be available to new self-funded applicants.


Hitchcock A, Jackson PJ, Chidgey, JW, Dickman MJ, Hunter CN, Canniffe DP. (2016) Biosynthesis of chlorophyll a in a purple bacterial phototroph and assembly into a plant chlorophyll-protein complex. ACS Synth Biol 5:948-954
Canniffe DP, Hunter CN. (2014) Engineered biosynthesis of bacteriochlorophyll b in Rhodobacter sphaeroides. Biochim Biophys Acta 1837(10):1611-1616
Qian P, Siebert CA, Wang P, Canniffe DP, Hunter CN. (2018) Cryo-EM structure of the Blastochloris viridis LH1-RC complex at 2.9 Å. Nature 556:203-208

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