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‘Photosynthetic’ mammalian cells: Can we take control of cellular power plants?

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Teuta Pilizota
    Prof S Rosser
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Cellular mitochondria are considered power plants of eukaryotic cells; this is where the ATP molecules, so called energy currency of living organisms, are produced. Once made, ATP serves to power a myriad of cellular processes and is therefore of unquestionable importance. But, can we take control of this production using synthetic biology approaches and by doing so open a range of exciting possibilities? In this project we will try to do so in the following ways. First, we will engineer mitochondria to use energy from light (photons) to power the rotary molecular motor that makes ATP, using available synthetic proteins and circuits. To prove we have succeeded, we will monitor the levels of ATP using single cell sensors that we are developing in our labs. We expect the mitochondria to ‘energize’ or ‘de-energize’ depending on the amount of light we provide to them. Next, we will test if increased levels of ATP can improve the expression of engineered synthetic circuits. We will work with Chinese Hamster Ovary cell (CHO) and use engineered synthetic circuits we are already developing in our labs. The test outputs of these circuits will be fluorescent proteins; i.e. more production will correspond to brighter cells. Lastly, we will investigate if ‘powering up’ mitochondria in a given spatial pattern can increase production in only those cells that are exposed to the light. The pattern formation will be done in a microscope using spatial light modulators. For this part of the project you will be working with the other members of our labs who are using and developing the microscopy technology. Controlling ATP levels in individual cells in a spatial pattern of choice, can lead to interesting new questions with respect to (‘synthetic’) tissue formation, as well as unwanted tissue abnormalities.

Working on this project you will be expose to state of the art technologies in the exciting new filed of synthetic biology, and have the opportunity to interact with researchers with several different backgrounds (including biology, physics, engineering, biotechnology and mathematics).

The project will be co-supervised by Prof Susan Rosser and Dr. Teuta Pilizota. Please visit their lab webpages for more information or feel free to email them directly for more questions and details of the project.

The PhD student will become part UK Centre for Mammalian Synthetic Biology (the ‘Centre’), based at the University of Edinburgh. More information about our Centre can be found at and follow us on Twitter @SynthSysEd. This is an exciting opportunity to be at the cutting edge of this fast moving area of science and technology in world-leading research institutes. We are looking for highly motivated graduates who are enthusiastic about the potential of this new area of science and keen to work across disciplines.

Funding Notes

The “Apply online” button on this page will take you to our Online Application checklist. Please complete each step and download the checklist which will provide a list of funding options and guide you through the application process.

If you would like us to consider you for one of our scholarships you must apply by 12 noon on 13 December 2018 at the latest.


Related Subjects

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 109.70

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

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