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Light-powered protocells for bio-diagnostics; a synthetic biology project

College of Medicine, Veterinary and Life Sciences

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Dr A Amtmann , Dr J Reboud No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The aim of this project is to develop a minimal synthetic protocell that can report on inorganic and organic substances in water, soil or body fluids. This multidisciplinary project will exploit cutting-edge technologies from photo-biochemistry and biological engineering for a synthetic biology approach to bio-diagnostics. The student will combine membrane transport proteins to generate light-energized receptor modules and integrate them into the membranes of protocells. These are made out of robust polymers (polymersomes) and generated at high throughput on a microfluidic platform. Alongside the laboratory work, the student will critically assess the potential merits of the different uses of the new technology and any related social constraints (responsible innovation).
Synthetic biology assembles biological parts into new processes such as metabolic or transport pathways. The toolbox is rapidly increasing and so are the applications, but there is still a wide gap between theory and practice. Even in a simple bacterial cell the regulatory network controlling substrate-product relationships is so complex that efforts to integrate new biological functions are often ‘lost in translation’. The success of synthetic biology in the long run will depend on radical simplification of chassis. As an alternative to the top-down approach, which aims to reduce existing biological systems, this project follows a bottom-up approach, adding biological parts to a minimal artificial chassis to achieve the desired biological function. The student will develop a generic solution which should open a window of opportunities for downstream applications in medicine, agriculture and water treatment.
The project provides excellent interdisciplinary training opportunities. The student will receive training in molecular biology, biophysics and biochemistry. They will learn how to use the microfluidic platform, and how to systematically optimise molecular devices. The student will also receive guidance on how to access and evaluate publicly available data on regulatory policies, market requirements and public and stakeholder opinion. In addition to shaping the trajectory of the technology, this will equip them with additional skills that are increasingly important in the workplace.
The student will be integrated into the vibrant laboratory of Prof. Amtmann, which is housed in the Bower Building and equipped with state-of-the-art facilities for protein biochemistry, electrophysiology and confocal microscopy. The student will be part of a highly motivated cohort of post-docs and post-grads, many of them working on related topics. The group meets for weekly lab seminars and journal clubs providing opportunities for the student to present their results and critically discuss scientific papers. Dr. Reboud shares cutting-edge technological know-how and facilities with the group of Prof. Cooper in their superbly equipped laboratory in the Rankine Building. The student will collaborate with the RA/PG cohorts of the Reboud/Cooper group and of the Murphy group, and participate in relevant seminars in the Schools of Engineering and Interdisciplinary Sciences. The interdisciplinary ‘Water @ Glasgow’ group will provide a particularly stimulating forum for interaction.
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Funding Notes

A first/upper second honours degree with focus on Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and/or Biotechnology (UK) or equivalent. 3 months practical laboratory experience (e.g. Honours project). Good understanding of ion transport, physical chemistry and protein structure. Interest in engineering/social sciences. Strength in numeracy, computing and problem solving. Excellent communication/presentation skills. Ability to work in a team
Funding covers tuition fees and stipend at Research Council rate (£13,863 for 2014-2015) for 4 years, subject to satisfactory annual progress. For more information and how to apply please go to

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