FREE PhD study and funding virtual fair REGISTER NOW FREE PhD study and funding virtual fair REGISTER NOW

Isolation and classification of bacteriophages purified from maternal breast milk and determination of their role in bacterial community development. (ref: RDFC22/HLS/APP/DSMITH4)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Prof Darren Smith  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Survival of very preterm infants has significantly increased over the last 20 years, but late onset sepsis (LOS) and serious bowel disease including necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) remain major causes of death and disability in those born < 32 weeks of gestation). NEC and LOS together are now the commonest cause of death after the first week of life in preterm infants, and survivors suffer adverse physical and intellectual development, prolonged hospital stays and utilise considerable NHS resources. Despite their importance, LOS and NEC are poorly understood although both appear linked to an ‘imbalance’ in gut bacteria. Recent work from our group has identified that the microbiome of the preterm infant gut has specific signatures that are related to health and that the associated microbiomes are dominated by particular bacterial species and associated with disease phenotypes.

Phages are viruses that infect bacteria and are often an overlooked component of microbiota. Some phages offer a ‘second layer’ of host immunity at the epithelial surface by killing incoming bacteria or driving horizontal genetic transfer of phage nucleic acid that may encode a selective advantage for the colonising bacterium when integrated as a prophage. The aim of this study is to isolate phages from maternal breast milk, infant stool samples that target bacteria that are indicated as either associated with the engraftment of a healthy microbiota or those that target proposed pathogenic bacteria. These will be characterised for their biology but not limited to obligate lytic phages that remediate bacteria in that system, where we aim to characterise temperate phages that drive new function when they are integrated into the bacterial chromosome. The key aim is to begin to deliver a panel of phages or lysogens that would promote the establishment of a healthy gut flora in these very young babies and determine their role in the biology of this system.

You will join a team of active phage researchers, in a faculty defined as 4* for research environment in REF 2022, using; systems, culture, invitro models, molecular biology, omics and bioinformatics approaches to overlay the impact of phages in preterm gut environment.  

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); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

•       Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

•       Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

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. RDFC22/…) will not be considered.


Deadline for applications: Wed 24th Aug 2022

Interviews: Approx 7th Sep 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University is committed to creating an inclusive culture where we take pride in, and value, the diversity of our doctoral students. We encourage and welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds a bronze Athena Swan award in recognition of our commitment to advancing gender equality, we are a Disability Confident Employer, a member of the Race Equality Charter and are participating in the Stonewall Diversity Champion Programme. We also hold the HR Excellence in Research award for implementing the concordat supporting the career Development of Researchers.

Informal enquiries to Professor Darren Smith ([Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

The studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2022/23 this is £16,062 per year) and full tuition fees. Only Home candidates may apply, due to funding constraints.
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.


1. 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 Pediatrics-Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
2. Young, G. R., van der Gast, C. J., Smith, D. L., Berrington, J. E., Embleton, N. D. and Lanyon, C. (2020). Acquisition and Development of the Extremely Preterm Infant Microbiota Across Multiple Anatomical Sites. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition 70(1): 12-19.
3. GR Young, DL Smith, ND Embleton, JE Berrington, EC Schwalbe, Stephen P Cummings, Christopher J van der Gast, Clare Lanyon (2017). Reducing Viability Bias in Analysis of Gut Microbiota in Preterm Infants at Risk of NEC and Sepsis. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. 8, 374
PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs