Nutritional immunity: the battle for iron between host and pathogen

   Department of Biomedical Sciences

About the Project

The innate immune defence system responds to bacterial infection by reducing the amount of available iron to restrict bacterial growth. Pathogens employ host-specific iron-uptake systems to overcome this host iron-withdrawal response. Most cellular organisms (bacteria as well as host cells) can also store iron intracellularly and use this stored iron to counter iron restriction. Cellular iron stores are in proteins called ‘ferritins’ – such proteins are universally present in living organisms. However, it remains unclear how iron stores are released from ferritins. In addition, much remains to be understood concerning the iron acquisition systems utilised by bacteria that colonise and infect the human host, and the roles played by such systems in pathogenicity.  This also includes their roles in the colonisation of the gut where bacteria must compete and the host for the limited dietary iron that is available.  

In this project we will explore the function and mechanisms of key bacterial iron transporters (Feo, Efe, MbfA, P19) and iron-storage proteins (Ftn, Bfr, Dps) to determine their specific purposes and roles in gut colonisation and/or pathogenicity.  Appropriate models will be used, including gut models inoculated with gut microbiota. Relevant bacterial species under study include E. coliBurkholderia cepacia and C. jejuni

The PhD programme will allow the applicant to experience a wide range of important molecular techniques (including PCR, bacterial genetics, protein over-expression, directed mutagenesis, cloning) and will provide much scope for independence, publication, and contribution to scientific conferences. The work is novel and exciting and would be expected to lead to high impact outputs. The lab is well- equipped and the candidate would join a well-established group working on related projects that currently includes twelve PhD students and one post-doctoral Fellow.  

School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading: 

The University of Reading, located west of London, England, provides world-class research education programs. The University’s main Whiteknights Campus is set in 130 hectares of beautiful parkland, a 30-minute train ride to central London and 40 minutes from London Heathrow airport.   

Our School of Biological Sciences conducts high-impact research, tackling current global challenges faced by society and the planet. Our research ranges from understanding and improving human health and combating disease, through to understanding evolutionary processes and uncovering new ways to protect the natural world. In 2020, we moved into a stunning new ~£60 million Health & Life Sciences building. This state-of-the-art facility is purpose-built for science research and teaching. It houses the Cole Museum of Zoology, a café, and social spaces. 

In the School of Biological Sciences, you will be joining a vibrant community of ~180 PhD students representing ~40 nationalities. Our students publish in high-impact journals, present at international conferences, and organise a range of exciting outreach and public engagement activities. 

During your PhD at the University of Reading, you will expand your research knowledge and skills, receiving supervision in one-to-one and small group sessions. You will have access to innovative technology and learn the latest research techniques. We also provide dedicated training in important transferable skills that will support your career aspirations. If English is not your first language, the University's excellent International Study and Language Institute will help you develop your academic English skills. 

The University of Reading is a welcoming community for people of all faiths and cultures.  We are committed to a healthy work-life balance and will work to ensure that you are supported personally and academically. 


Applicants should have a good degree (minimum of a UK Upper Second (2:1) undergraduate degree or equivalent) or master's degree) in a biological subject (e.g., Biology, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Genetics, Biomedicine, Biological Chemistry, Molecular Biology, Food Sciences) or a strongly related discipline.  


Applicants will also need to meet the University’s English Language requirements. We offer pre-sessional courses that can help with meeting these requirements. 


How to apply: 

Apply for a PhD in Biological Sciences or Biomedical Sciences at 


Further information: 


Please also see further references on Prof Andrews’ profile: 

Professor Simon Andrews – University of Reading 

Funding Notes

We welcome applications from self-funded students worldwide for this project.
If you are applying to an international funding scheme, we encourage you to get in contact as we may be able to support you in your application.


Andrews, S.C., Robinson, A.K. & Rodriguez-Quinones, F. (2003). Bacterial iron homeostasis, FEMS Microbiology Reviews, 27, 215-237.
Julien, L. A., Fau, C., Baron, F., Bonnassie, S., Guérin-Dubiard, C., Nau, F., Gautier, M., Karatzas, K.-A., Jan, S. and Andrews, S. (2020) The three lipocalins of egg-white: only Ex-FABP inhibits siderophore-dependent iron sequestration by Salmonella Enteritidis. Frontiers in Microbiology, 11. 913. ISSN 1664-302X doi:
Legros, J., Jan, S., Bonnassie, S., Gautier, M., Croguennec, T., Pezennec, S., Cochet, M.-F., Nau, F., Andrews, S. C. and Baron, F. (2021) The role of Ovotransferrin in egg-white antimicrobial activity: a review. Foods, 10 (4). 823. ISSN 2304-8158 doi:

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