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Molecular basis for the architecture, function, and regulation of photosynthetic machinery

   Institute of Systems, Molecular and Integrative Biology

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  Prof LN Liu, Dr D Canniffe  No more applications being accepted  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Applications will be reviewed until a suitable candidate is appointed.

Photosynthesis provides food and energy for almost all forms of life and is arguably the most important biological process on Earth. Photosynthetic light reactions are a particularly complex biochemical process involving multiple protein complexes working together in a specialized photosynthetic membrane. The photosynthetic apparatus is typically composed of light-harvesting antenna for capturing solar energy, reaction centres for charge separation and energy conversion, cytochromes and ATP synthase for harnessing the energy stored in the proton gradient to phosphorylate ADP. Understanding how the photosynthetic machinery is synthesized and works in an astonishing variety of environmental conditions is fundamentally important for advancing our knowledge of natural photosynthesis and aiding synthetic biology to generate artificial photosynthetic systems for bioenergy production.

This project aims to unravel the biosynthesis and functions of photosynthetic complexes and machinery in purple photosynthetic bacteria and cyanobacteria. The successful applicant will use multidisciplinary techniques to investigate the structures, assembly and dynamics of membrane protein complexes, protein/lipid interactions, as well as membrane biogenesis process in the changing environments to regulate photosynthetic efficiency. Tackling these fundamental questions will provide us with new strategies for cell/membrane engineering to supercharge cellular metabolism and underpinning the industrial development to address societal challenges such as sustainable energy and food production.

Highly motivated applicants holding a Masters’ degree or a BSc at first or high 2:1 class in biochemistry / microbiology / structural biology or equivalent are encouraged to contact Professor Liu ([Email Address Removed], for details and apply for studentships. Experience of lab work in protein biochemistry, microscopy, and molecular biology would be an advantage but not a prerequisite.

This highly multidisciplinary project will combine molecular biology, biochemistry and cell physiology, as well as state-of-the-art imaging methods including cryo-electron microscopy and fluorescence microscopy, and atomic force microscopy. This project will also provide training on proteomics, bioinformatics, and computational modelling. Training in all aspects of the project will be provided with access to world-class infrastructure in the Institute and with wide collaborators in the UK and overseas, which are valuable for career development.

Funding Notes

The project is open to both European/UK and International students. It is UNFUNDED and applicants are encouraged to contact the Principal Supervisor directly to discuss their application and the project.
Assistance will be given to those who are applying to international funding schemes.
The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses as well as research costs of £7000 per year.
A fee bursary may be available for well qualified and motivated applicants.
Details of costs can be found on the University website:
A £2000 ISMIB Travel and Training Support Grant may be available to new self-funded applicants.


1. Bracun et al., Lu-Ning Liu* (2021) Cryo-EM structure of the photosynthetic RC–LH1–PufX supercomplex at 2.8-Å resolution. Science Advances, 7(25): eabf8864.
2. Huokko et al., Lu-Ning Liu* (2021) Probing the biogenesis pathway and dynamics of thylakoid membranes. Nature Communications, 12: 3475.
3. Zhao et al., Lu-Ning Liu* (2020) Structural variability, coordination, and adaptation of a native photosynthetic machinery. Nature Plants, 6(7): 869-882.
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