Nanoparticles for penetrating complex polysaccharide matrices – cell walls and biofilms

   School of Life Sciences

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  Dr Miriam Gifford  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


To find carbon-based nanostructures that will pass through complex polysaccharide matrices to deliver drugs and/or reporters.


The Becer group has tremendous expertise in the synthesis and chemistry of defined polymer nanostructures. The Harrison group studies how bacterial pathogens are able to form long-lived, chronic infections with high levels of tolerance to antibiotics, with a special focus on how bacterial biofilms affect how they respond to drugs. The Gifford and Napier groups are evaluating the penetration of designed polymer nanoparticles into plants as possible vehicles for targeted interventions.

In each research area the cells of interest are surrounded by natural, structural polysaccharide barriers. We are just beginning to learn the properties of polymer nanoparticles which can pass through these extracellular matrices but there is much more to be learnt if we are to develop efficient delivery systems for penetrating these barriers.

Research Idea

This highly interdisciplinary project will evaluate and learn the design features of carbon polymer-based nanostructures that are necessary for the best penetration of diverse, but natural polysaccharide gels. The nanoparticles will be fluorescent allowing their permeation and accumulation to be recorded using confocal microscopy. The project will include both design and chemical synthesis of polymer nanoparticles, and their biological characterisation. The ideal candidate will therefore have skills in both chemistry and cell biology. However, depending on your experience, you may focus more on one of these areas. The ideal candidate will have skills and interests in both chemistry and cell biology. Candidates with experience in either plant or animal cell biology are welcome.


Synthetic polymer chemistry, dynamic light scattering, confocal microscopy, electron microscopy, microbiology, human pathology, plant molecular biology, quantitative RT-PCR, etc.

Principal Supervisor: Professor Miriam Gifford

Secondary Supervisor(s): Prof Remzi Becer (Chemistry), Prof Richard NapierDr Freya Harrison

University of Registration: University of Warwick

BBSRC Research Themes:

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Biological Sciences (4)


Sweeney E, Sabnis A, Edwards AM and Harrison F. (2020) Effect of host-mimicking medium and biofilm growth on the ability of colistin to kill Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Microbiology. 166:1171-80. Becker J, Terracciano R, Yilmaz G, Napier R, Becer CR (2023) Step-growth glycopolymers with a defined tacticity for selective carbohydrate–lectin recognition. Biomacromolecules 24: 1924–1933.
Parkinson SJ, Tungsirisurp S, Joshi C, Richmond BL, Gifford ML, Sikder A, Lynch I, O’Reilly, RK and Napier, RM (2022) Polymer nanoparticles pass the plant interface. Nature Comms. 13:7385.
Collis DWP, Yilmaz G, Yuan Y, Monaco A, Ohbaum G, Shi Y, O'Malley C, Uzunova V, Napier R, Bittot R, Becer R, Azevedo HS. (2021) Hyaluronan (HA)-inspired glycopolymers as molecular tools for studying HA functions. RSC Chemical Biology, 2: 568-576.

 About the Project