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  Investigating the mechanisms of antibacterial action of silver and copper ions and nanoparticles, and the emerging threat of metal-ion resistance

   Department of Biomedical Sciences

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Project Overview:

The emergence of bacterial strains with resistance to multiple classes of antibiotics has led to renewed interest in the antimicrobial properties of metals including silver. There has been a surge in the number of products on the market that contain antimicrobial silver ions (Ag+) and nanoparticles (AgNPs), including wound creams and dressings, coatings on medical devices and domestic appliances, and personal hygiene products. The development of improved silver-based antimicrobials continues to receive significant research funding worldwide. The increased use of silver antimicrobials may be driving the spread of silver resistance genes in bacterial populations. Understanding the precise mechanisms of Ag+ antibacterial action and evolution of silver resistance is necessary to improve development and application of silver-based antimicrobials.

This research will investigate the molecular basis of silver sensitivity and resistance in different bacterial pathogens of clinical and veterinary importance. A range of molecular techniques (e.g. enzyme assays, Western blots, qRT-PCR, RNAseq, electron microscopy, ICP-MS, fluorescent probes and biosensors) will be used to monitor toxic effects of Ag+ and AgNPs in different bacterial cells to determine the primary targets and cellular responses. The molecular basis of Ag+ resistance will be determined using whole genome sequencing, transcriptomics, directed mutagenesis and cloning techniques. 

The project offers the opportunity to make a valuable contribution in tackling the global challenge posed by antimicrobial resistance. It offers much scope for independence, publication, and contribution to scientific conferences. You would join an established Microbiology research group at the University of Reading, working in a well-equipped laboratory alongside many other PhD students and post-doctoral researchers within the School of Biological Sciences.


School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading:

The University of Reading, located west of London, England, provides world-class research education programs. The University’s main Whiteknights Campus is set in 130 hectares of beautiful parkland, a 30-minute train ride to central London and 40 minutes from London Heathrow airport. 

Our School of Biological Sciences conducts high-impact research, tackling current global challenges faced by society and the planet. Our research ranges from understanding and improving human health and combating disease, through to understanding evolutionary processes and uncovering new ways to protect the natural world. In 2020, we moved into a stunning new ~£60 million Health & Life Sciences building. This state-of-the-art facility is purpose-built for science research and teaching. It houses the Cole Museum of Zoology, a café and social spaces.

In the School of Biological Sciences, you will be joining a vibrant community of ~180 PhD students representing ~40 nationalities. Our students publish in high-impact journals, present at international conferences, and organise a range of exciting outreach and public engagement activities.

During your PhD at the University of Reading, you will expand your research knowledge and skills, receiving supervision in one-to-one and small group sessions. You will have access to cutting-edge technology and learn the latest research techniques. We also provide dedicated training in important transferable skills that will support your career aspirations. If English is not your first language, the University's excellent International Study and Language Institute will help you develop your academic English skills.

The University of Reading is a welcoming community for people of all faiths and cultures. We are committed to a healthy work-life balance and will work to ensure that you are supported personally and academically.


Applicants should have a good degree (minimum of a UK Upper Second (2:1) undergraduate degree or equivalent) or Master's degree in a biological subject (e.g. Biology, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Genetics, Biomedicine, Biological Chemistry, Molecular Biology) or a strongly-related discipline. Practical experience working in a microbiology or molecular biology laboratory is highly desired but not essential.  

Applicants will also need to meet the University’s English Language requirements. We offer pre-sessional courses that can help with meeting these requirements. With a commitment to improving diversity in science and engineering, we encourage applications from underrepresented groups.

How to apply:

Submit an application for a PhD in Biological Sciences or Biomedical Sciences at


Further information:



Dr. Geraldine (Jay) Mulley, email:  

Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

We welcome applications from self-funded students worldwide for this project.
If you are applying to an international funding scheme, we encourage you to get in contact as we may be able to support you in your application.


Mulley, G., A. T. A. Jenkins, N. R. Waterfield (2014) Inactivation of the antibacterial and cytotoxic properties of silver ions by biologically relevant compounds. PLOS One. 9(4):e94409
Poulter, N., M. Donaldson, G. Mulley, L. Duque, N. Waterfield, A. G. Shard, S. Spencer, A. T. A. Jenkins, A. L. Johnson (2011) Plasma deposited metal Schiff-base compounds as antimicrobials. New Journal of Chemistry 35: 1477-1484

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