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Macromolecular Structure of Bioenergetic Supercomplexes using Cryo-Electron Microscopy

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  • Full or part time
    Dr LN Liu
    Prof M Shirouzu
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Energy conversion is essential for cell physiology and bioenergy production. Key cellular energy conversion processes take place in the biological membrane and involve electron transport powered by either light (photosynthesis) or chemical energy (respiration). These processes are efficiently carried out in electron transport chains comprising a set of membrane complexes that are self-assembled to form “supercomplexes”. The structures, function and regulation of these bioenergetic proteins and supercomplexes are fundamentally important for improving our current knowledge of cellular energy metabolism, ageing and disease, as well as cell engineering for biofuel production. This project is aimed at elucidating the macromolecular structures of photosynthetic and respiratory membrane proteins and the self-assembling supercomplexes in cyanobacteria, using the powerful Cryo-electron microscopy (Nobel Prize 2017) combined with molecular genetics, biochemistry, and bioinformatics. It will underpin our understanding of the physiology and regulation of cyanobacterial photosynthesis and acclimation to changing environments. The knowledge and techniques developed in the study can be extended to bioenergetic supercomplexes in chloroplasts and mitochondria.

This project combines the experience of the Liu Lab (University of Liverpool, UK) in cyanobacterial photosynthesis and thylakoid membrane structure (PNAS 2012, Mol Plant 2017) and the expertise of the Shirouzu Lab (Riken, Japan) in the structural analysis of macromolecular complexes using X-ray crystallography and Cryo-electron microscopy (Science 2017, PNAS 2016). The PhD student will work at Liverpool (UK) for 2 years to establish techniques for efficient biochemical isolation and characterization, and has a great opportunity to work in Riken (Japan) for 2 years to conduct high-resolution imaging using Cryo-EM. Training in all aspects of the project will be provided with access to state-of-the-art infrastructure in the Institute of Integrative Biology and with international collaborators, essential for career development.

Contact: Dr. Luning Liu, [Email Address Removed],

Funding Notes

The fully-funded 4-year PhD studentship will start in October 2018 for UK/EU nationals. It provides tuition fees and stipend at RCUK rate (currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018). Candidates need to hold, or expect to hold, a first class or high II.1 degree in structural biology, biochemistry or equivalent, and have demonstrated strong motivation, intelligence, and abilities of self-management, writing scientific reports, and working in a laboratory environment. Experience in microscopy is desirable. Please send your CV and a cover letter with contact information of two referees to Dr Liu ([Email Address Removed]). More detailed are available via Email or website:


1. Distribution and dynamics of electron transport complexes in cyanobacterial thylakoid membranes. Liu LN. Biochim Biophys Acta - Bioenergetics, 2016, 1857(3): 256-265.

2. Structure of the complete elongation complex of RNA polymerase II with basal factors.
Ehara H, Yokoyama T, Shigematsu H, Yokoyama S, Shirouzu M, Sekine SI. Science. 2017, 357(6354): 921-924.

3. Control of electron transport routes through redox-regulated redistribution of respiratory complexes. Liu LN, Bryan SJ, Huang F, Yu JF, Nixon PJ, Rich PR, Mullineaux CW. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 2012, 109(28): 11431-11436.

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