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Mining for Novel Cu Proteins in Ammonia Oxidising Archaea: A Missing Link in the Nitrogen Cycle? – to start October 2019 - for an MSc by Dissertation (MSD)

Project Description

Background. Ammonia oxidising bacteria (AOB) and archaea (AOA) play a critical part in the global nitrogen cycle, with consequences for climate change. Biochemical pathways in AOB are understood, involving multiple enzymatic steps catalyzed by haem enzymes. The related pathways in AOA are almost entirely unknown [1] and genes corresponding to the haem c proteins that perform the downstream chemistry in AOB are absent. A clue to an alternate pathway lies within archaeal genomes, whereby an unusually large number of copper proteins are present. The genome of the first cultivated marine archaeon, Nitrosopumilus maritimus (Nmar) codes for six multicopper oxidases (MCOs) that in many cases have no close bacterial homologue [2].

Project Aims: (i) To establish the broader presence of cuproprotein genes in AOA genomes and existing environmental isolates/samples (e.g. soils, aquatic); (ii) to characterize the structure and biochemistry of selected proteins and their roles in alternative Cu-based AO pathways.

This multi-disciplinary project encompasses biochemistry, environmental microbiology, molecular biology, modelling and bioinformatics. The experimental design will give you a rewarding research project with freedom to test hypotheses and develop your own ideas.

You will join the Protein Structure & Mechanisms of Disease and Environmental Microbiology Groups comprising PDRAs, PhD & MSD students and technicians, providing strong support and training for all aspects of the project. This studentship offers excellent employability prospects, given the wide range of transferable skills learned.

Entry requirements and application procedures
Highly motivated applicants with, or expecting, a good degree in the broad area of Life Sciences are encouraged to apply.
Applications should be submitted electronically by 24th April 2019 see here for details

You are encouraged to contact the supervisor/s before application: , , and If you have any queries with the online application process, please contact

For general information about the School of Biological Sciences at the University please visit our webpages

The University of Essex
The University of Essex is University of the Year - Times Higher Education (THE) Awards 2018. In the recent Research Excellence Framework 77% of research at the University of Essex research is ’world leading’ or ’internationally excellent’ (REF 2014).We offer world-class supervision and training opportunities and our research students work at the heart of an internationally-acknowledged and well-connected research community. In the 2013 Postgraduate Research Experience Survey, 84% of respondents said that they were satisfied with the quality of their research degree. At Essex we win awards for our pioneering student support schemes. We are the most recent winners of the prestigious Times Higher Education award for Outstanding Support for Students. Essex is a genuine global community. With more than 130 countries represented within our student body, and 40% of our students from overseas, we are one of the most internationally-diverse universities in the UK.

Funding Notes

Christine Desty Scholarship, fully-funded (Home/EU fees £4630 plus stipend of £15,009) for an MSc by Dissertation (MSD) in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Essex


[1] Vajrala, N., et al., Hydroxylamine as an intermediate in ammonia oxidation by globally abundant marine archaea. PNAS, 2013, 110 1006-11.

[2] Walker, C.B., et al., Nitrosopumilus maritimus genome reveals unique mechanisms for nitrification and autotrophy in globally distributed marine crenarchaea. PNAS 2010, 107 8818-23.

How good is research at University of Essex in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 23.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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