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Precious metal biorecovery using microbial factory

   School of Biosciences

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  Dr Ying Zhang  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Each year millions of tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) are generated in the EU, but only 30% is reported as properly collected and recycled, while the majority ends up in landfill. In turn, critical raw materials that are present within these WEEE, namely rare earth elements (REEs) and silver, are also wasted. This represents an unnecessarily high cost to the economy, and a pressing need to develop cheap and sustainable REEs recycling process. Bacterium such as Cupriavidius sp. can tolerate high concentration of metals such as silver, and extracellularly synthesize silver nanoparticles (AgNPs). They are microbes that are found ubiquitously, typically in soils, and solubilize metals owing to various metabolic products. Production of nanomaterials from waste materials using microorganisms is particularly promising because (1) the produced nanomaterials can be directly valorized in catalytic/industrial processes, (2) the microorganisms are considered as inexpensive catalysts and synthesis is conducted at ambient temperature and pressure. There is currently a clear need for setting up experiments focused on the generation of biogenic particles from real waste streams, including WEEE, and upscaling of the technologies to pilot-scale.

In this project, we will work closely with our industrial partner Freeland Scientific Ltd ( to explore the suitability of using autotrophic bacteria to design a ‘one-pot bio-refining’ process, adopting a combinatorial chemistry and synthetic biology approaches for novel precious metal recovery. Our group recently established an arsenal of genetic tools in several difficult to handle bacteria, including CRISPR/Cas9, CRISPRi, Tn5 transposon, which will allow us to investigate and enhance the metal bio-absorption rate in bacterium such as Cupriavidius sp and manipulate and control the metal nanoparticle formation and release. This 4-year PhD project will be hosted in Nottingham BBSRC/EPSRC Synthetic Biology Research Centre ( The study will allow for training in a unique multidisciplinary environment, incorporating gas fermentation, synthetic biology, microbial physiology, metabolic engineering and process design.

Applicants should have (or expected) at least a 2.1 degree or equivalent in Biochemistry; Bioengineering; Biology; Biotechnology; Life Sciences or other relevant subjects. A relevant Master's degree and/or research experience will be an advantage. The student appointed will participate in training opportunities provided by the BBSRC DTP, home School’s and Researcher Academy, as well as a 3-6 months placement with Freeland. Funding covers both the fees and maintenance for 4 years for UK/International students. Those whose first language is not English will require IELTS 6.5 (minimum 6.0 in each element). Informal inquiries are welcome and should be sent to Dr Zhang: [[Email Address Removed]]

To apply and check your eligibility, please click go to and you can find further information about how to apply to our programme.

Apply online here by noon on Tuesday 25th July 2023

Funding Notes

This opportunity is open to students who are classed as Home for fees. International students will be ineligible to be considered for this round of recruitment. Funding is available for four years from late September 2023. The award covers tuition fee (£4,712) at the home rate plus an annual stipend which was (£18,622) for 2023/24. This is set by the Research Councils.
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