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PhD in chemotaxis signalling and biofilms dispersal (structural biology)

Project Description

Antibiotic resistance has been described by the World Health Organisation as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development“. A compounding factor to resistance is the ability of bacteria to convert from the free-swimming, planktonic form into sessile, structured bacterial communities known as biofilms. Bacteria within biofilms can be up to 1000-fold more tolerant towards antibiotics, leading to many types of chronic infection, and negatively affecting morbidity and mortality; examples include non-healing wounds, device-related infections, or respiratory infections associated with cystic fibrosis. Bacteria within biofilms can, given the correct environmental cues, undergo coordinated dispersal and reversion to the planktonic form. Understanding these processes is vital to develop novel anti-biofilm strategies, where dispersal is induced and, in combination with antibiotics, infections are cleared.

This PhD addresses the mechanism of dispersal in the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and focusses on two key proteins identified in dispersal pathways: a biofilm environmental sensor protein (chemotaxis sensor), and a phosphodieseterase enzyme. The sensor protein may respond to several environmental signals, leading to downstream effects of lowered intracellular c-di-GMP levels that are critical for the biofilm life style. In itself not able to catalyse c-di-GMP breakdown, chemotaxis sensors can stimulate phosphodiesterases which then lower cellular c-di-GMP levels, which in turn can lead to dispersal.

The methodology in this proposal draws from microbiological, biochemical, and structural biology expertise in the partnering lab, and uses Diamond’s exceptional density of state-of-the-art structure giving techniques to analyse this complex problem. This would include use of small angle scattering and macromolecular crystallography structural biology beamlines, the central laser facility with super-resolution microscopy, and electron microscopy at eBIC. The PhD will promote collaboration and build on an existing partnership with the recently awarded BBSRC and Innovate UK-funded National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC).

Funding Notes

The project is funded for 4 years and welcomes applicants from the UK and EU who have or expect to obtain at least a first class degree in Biological Sciences or allied subjects. Funding will cover fees, support to travel, and an extended stipend at of £16,998 per annum for 2018/19. Subject to rise for 201920.

Due to funding restrictions this position is only open to UK/EU applicants.


Applications for an MPhil/PhD in Biological Sciences should be submitted online at: Please place Ivo Tews’ name in the field for proposed supervisor.

General enquiries should be made to Ivo Tews at [email protected] or mail [email protected] (Co-Supervisor at Diamond is Martin Walsh). Any queries on the application process should be made to [email protected]
Interviews will be held in Southampton End of March 2019.

The University of Southampton and Biological Sciences both hold an Athena Swan Silver Award, respectively, demonstrating their commitment to provide equal opportunities and to advance the representation of women in STEM/M subjects: science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. Due consideration will be given to applicants who have taken a career break. University benefits include onsite childcare facilities, state-of-the-art on-campus sports, arts and culture facilities, a full programme of events and a range of staff discounts.

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.80

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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