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Precursor-directed biosynthesis of non-natural oligosaccharides: enabling tools to explore polysaccharide structure-property relationships


Faculty of Natural Sciences

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Dr G J Miller No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
Stoke on Trent United Kingdom Organic Chemistry

About the Project

Precursor-directed biosynthesis of non-natural oligosaccharides: enabling tools to explore polysaccharide structure-property relationships

Polysaccharides are carbohydrate architectures containing multiple units of common monosaccharide precursors that are assembled into linear and branched chains where they constitute around 80% of biomass. They provide essential structural roles, aggregating into well-defined systems with different, ultimate physical properties. There is a current global necessity to develop and supply biocompatible, cheap and renewable materials for application across a multitude of industrial sectors. Polysaccharides satisfy many of these material requirements, but this is predicated by a need to first fully understand their higher structural architecture underpinning to their physicochemical, biomaterial properties.

In contrast to the situation with nucleic acids and proteins, polysaccharide architectures are not template-encoded and they are not under direct genomic control. Hence, we currently have no ‘code’ or ‘tool-kit’ with which to understand and manipulate polysaccharide materials. A strategy to circumvent this is to provide a controlled access to defined oligosaccharides. These materials can then be subjected to in depth structural and functional analysis, to learn the rules that control and drive higher order assemblies in polysaccharides.

This project will involve the design and assembly of biosynthetic precursors to oligosaccharides, sugar nucleotides. You will be involved in conceiving and synthesising defined, non-natural sugar nucleotides for in vitro and whole-cell applications to then access modified oligosaccharide sequences. These materials will be utilised in conjunction with the industrial partner, Unilever, to perform oligosaccharide physicochemical and functionality screening.

This is an exciting opportunity to be part of a team interfaced between academia and the speciality chemicals industry. The project will be jointly hosted between the Miller and Field groups at Keele and Manchester respectively, alongside spending time at the industrial partner and participating in Unilever graduate training activities You will receive full training in organic/carbohydrate synthesis and biochemical approaches for sugar nucleotide and oligosaccharide synthesis. Transferable skills such as reporting of results orally and in writing, time management, project planning and management will be also developed. 

Qualifications: Applicants should have or expect at least a good 2(i) honours degree (or an equivalent degree) in Chemistry. Any experience in synthetic organic or carbohydrate chemistry is a plus. 

Contact for further information: For informal inquiries regarding the project please contact the academic leads, Dr Gavin Miller:

[Email Address Removed] or Professor Rob Field: [Email Address Removed] or] and include a CV. 

For full details of project and to submit an application please go https://www.keele.ac.uk/study/postgraduateresearch/studentships/organicandbiologicalchemistry/

Please quote FNS 2021-01 on your application.

Submission: Closing date for applications 28/02/21: Interviews will be organised from March 2021 onwards. The position will be considered filled once a suitable candidate has been identified.


Funding Notes

This is a four year fully funded PhD studentship. Funding available for UK students only.
100% UK fees for 4 years. Stipend at UKRI rates (2021/22 £15609 per annum).
Eligibility Criteria:
MSc/MChem (or MRes) in Chemistry - minimum degree classification 2(i) or equivalent.


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