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  Investigating the biology and utility of Giant Viruses (Jumbo-bacteriophages). (ref: SF22/HLS/APP/Smith-Nelson)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The bacteriophage research group at Northumbria University are seeking a highly motivated and talented PhD candidates to join our team and investigate the biology and potential applications of jumbo bacteriophages.

Jumbo bacteriophages are a unique group of giant viruses that infect bacteria with genome sizes ranging from 200 to over 500 kilobases. They are distinct from typical bacteriophages due to their large size, complex morphology, and unique genetic features, including a range of auxiliary metabolic genes that may play important roles in the interactions between viruses, bacteria, and other organisms. Their size means that they are excluded from virome work as they are large enough to be captured by filtration and so are underrepresented in virus community studies. Jumbo-bacteriophages are currently categorised into 3 groups based on their genome architecture, but due to our current limited knowledge of these viruses we expect this to expand rapidly over the coming years. As a group we have previously identified these giant viruses in clinical samples from the preterm infant gut, chronic respiratory diseases and the environment. These viruses are also distinct in that they usually have extremely broad bacterial host ranges and therefore their infectivity and interactions with bacteria may offer a route to the future of novel antimicrobial therapies or interventions.

The successful candidate will work within an active research group to investigate the biology, genomics and molecular mechanisms of jumbo bacteriophages, with a particular focus on their interactions with host bacteria and their potential applications in biotechnology or as an antimicrobial in infection, and environmental science. The research will involve a combination of lab-based experimental work alongside computational approaches, including isolation and characterisation of jumbo bacteriophages, genome sequencing and further analysis.

The ideal candidate will have a strong background in molecular biology, microbiology, virology, or a related field, and a passion for exploring the frontiers of science and technology. Candidates with experience in genomics and bioinformatics are particularly encouraged to apply. 

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

•      Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non- UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above)

•      Appropriate IELTS score, if required

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see


Please note: All applications must include a covering letter (up to 1000 words maximum) including why you are interested in this PhD, a summary of the relevant experience you can bring to this project and of your understanding of this subject area with relevant references (beyond the information already provided in the advert). Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. SF22/…) will not be considered.


Deadline for applications: Ongoing

Start Date: 1st October and 1st March are the standard cohort start dates each year.

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Informal enquiries to Dr Prof Darren Smith ()

Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

This project is fully self-funded and available to applicants worldwide. Tuition fees will depend on the running cost of the individual project, in line with University fee bands found at View Website. The fee band will be discussed and agreed at interview stage.
Most laboratory based PhDs are band 3 or 4.
Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:
• Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
• have settled status, or
• have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
• have indefinite leave to remain or enter.


G.R Young, W. Chyin Yew, A. Nelson, S.H. Bridge, J. E Berrington, N. D Embleton and D.L Smith (2022) Optimisation and application of a novel method to identify bacteriophage in maternal milk and infant stool identifies host-phage communities within preterm infant gut. Frontiers in Paediatrics - Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and
Matthew J. W. Furber, Gregory R. Young Giles S. Holt, Simone Pyle, Glen Davison, Michael G. Roberts, Justin D. Roberts, Glyn Howatson, Darren L. Smith (2022). Microbial Stability is Associated with Greater Endurance Performance in Athletes Undertaking Dietary Periodization. mSystems, Vol 7;3 DOI link:
Mohammad A. Tariq, Francesca L. C. Everest, Lauren A. Cowley, Rosanna Wright, Giles S. Holt, Hazel Ingram, Liberty A. M. Duignan, Clare V. Lanyon, Audrey Perry, John D. Perry, Stephen Bourke, Michael A. Brockhurst, Simon H. Bridge, Anthony De Soyza and Darren L. Smith (2019). Mobilizing Temperate Bacteriophage Communities and Resolving Individual Phage Genomes from Cystic Fibrosis and Bronchiectasis Pseudomonas aeruginosa Isolates. mSystems. Vol 4 (3) DOI:10.1128/mSystems.00191-18

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