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Novel Natural Products in Algae: an Untapped Resource for New Chemistry, Biochemistry and Bioactivity

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, March 01, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Algae are a very wide range of organisms that are found all over the planet, able to take the energy from the sun and convert CO2 into all the molecules they need to live. They produce a wide array of valuable compounds, including biofuels and food supplements, and are easy to grow. Some species produce complex toxins, only discovered when harmful algal blooms, such as red tides, cause poisonings in humans and other animals. There is evidence that many algal species also produce exotic compounds and use unusual biochemistry to synthesise them, though these compounds have not yet been well studied.1 For example, some species have enzymes for the production of complex metabolites, related to antibiotics and anticancer agents.2 In order to investigate these natural products, the O’Neill lab uses high throughput techniques, including chemoinformatics and next generation genome sequencing, to study these compounds.3

Project Outline

This project aims to explore the natural product biosynthetic capacity of euglenoid algae. The PhD candidate will gain advanced training in algal cell culturing and metabolite structural analysis, including using chemoinformatics, mass spectrometry and NMR spectroscopy. New compounds will be evaluated for bioactivity and further mode of action studies will be undertaken in collaboration with colleagues. The biosynthesis of these compounds will be explored in the algae through genome sequencing and metabolic labelling. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact Dr O’Neill () for more details about the project.

The Offer

This is a fully funded studentship for 42 months to commence before October 2020, with tuition fees paid, and full tax-free stipend commensurate with the RCUK rate (currently £15,009 per annum). This project is based in the School of Chemistry, University of Nottingham, and will provide extensive training in: cell culturing; HPLC-MS; natural product chemistry; small molecule structure elucidation; and bioinformatics.

Candidate Requirements

Applicants should be a UK or EU national and have, or expect to achieve, at least a 2:1 Honours degree (or equivalent) in Chemistry, Biochemistry or a related subject with substantial biological chemistry or biochemistry/microbiology content and a strong interest in natural products chemistry. A relevant Master's degree and/or experience in one or more of the following will be an advantage: biological chemistry, natural products chemistry, analytical chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, microbial ecology.

The first deadline for applications is 1st March 2020.


Formal applications should be made online through the University of Nottingham’s online application system


1. O'Neill, E. C., Saalbach, G., and Field, R. A. Gene discovery for synthetic biology: exploring the novel natural product biosynthetic capacity of eukaryotic microalgae. Methods in Enzymology (2016) 576, 99-120 DOI: 10.1016/bs.mie.2016.03.005
2. O’Neill, E. C., Trick, M., Hill, L., Rejzek, M., Dusi, R. G., Hamilton, C. J., Zimba, P. V., Henrissat, B. and Field, R. A. The transcriptome of Euglena gracilis reveals unexpected metabolic capabilities for carbohydrate and natural product biochemistry. Molecular Biosystems (2015) 11, 2808-2820 DOI: 10.1039/C5MB00319A
3. Crüsemann, M., O’Neill, E. C., Larson, C. B., Melnik, A. V., Floros, D. J., da Silva, R. R., Jensen, P. R, Dorrestein, B. C., and Moore, B. S. Prioritizing natural product diversity in a collection of 146 bacterial strains based on growth and extraction protocols. Journal of Natural Products (2017) 80, 588-597 DOI: 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.6b00722

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