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Microalgal cell-factories

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 29, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

A major contemporary challenge in industrial manufacturing is the development of sustainable production processes. This includes reduced resource consumption and CO2 generation, and energy efficient operations with maximised product outputs. Several chemical precursors are currently sourced from fossil derived petroleum that is environmentally unsustainable. Microbial routes to the manufacture of simple chemical precursors and complex biopolymers offer sustainable alternatives. Microalgae offer a means of fixing atmospheric CO2, thus providing realistic reduction of carbon emissions and producing valuable chemicals and chemical precursors of high value. Natural pathways exist in microalgae for the production of chemical precursors of value, but these generally translate poorly into production routes per se. However, a combination of engineering and synthetic biology approaches can be used to develop sustainable production processes using microalgae.
The project will address the challenges of developing microalgae as cell factories for the sustainable manufacture of chemicals and biopolymers of value. The emphasis will be on developing engineering strategies and synthetic biology approaches enabled through an understanding of microalgae metabolism and physiology towards development of sustainable manufacturing routes. A focus would be to develop processes that have multiple product pathways - the biorefinery concept. The work will take forward current investigations on microalgae characterisations for carbon sequestration and biofuel productions.

The student will have the opportunity to apply biochemical engineering principles and will get training in the cultivation of microalgae in submerged bioprocesses, under batch and continuous culture conditions. The candidate will gain expertise in omic methods of analysis, developing synthetic biology strategies, as well as chemometric data analysis techniques. The successful applicant will develop multidisciplinary skills in microalgae physiology and engineering. The student will be familiarised with Good Laboratory Practice regulations, COSHH, research ethics, confidentiality and development of generic transferable skills including IT, critical evaluation, problem-solving, data collection and analysis, team working, time management, written and communications skills will be ensured. The student will also get a chance to interact with research members of the ChELSI Institute at the Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering and the wider microalgae research community within and outside Sheffield, in addition to relevant industries.

The project will provide the necessary interdisciplinary skills for the student to pursue research and development in the sustainable use of materials for manufacturing and renewable energy sectors, as example sectors. Potential employers include the emerging and futuristic bio-based industry.

All the methodology and instrumentation required to achieve the objectives of the proposal are available in the applicant’s laboratory and through University-wide facilities and these will be available for the student during the duration of the project.

Funding Notes

Applicants should have a first or upper second class UK honours degree or equivalent in a related discipline ((Bio-)Chemical/Environmental Engineering or Bioscience/Microbiology/Molecular biology). A strong undergraduate background in molecular biology or chemical/biochemical engineering, with an interest in sustainable biomanufacturing, microalgae physiology, and/or synthetic biology is desired. The applicant should have been educated to degree level through the medium of English or have IELTS 7 or equivalent.

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