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Producing broad spectrum antiviral therapeutics from cyanobacteria

Deanery of Biomedical Sciences

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Dr R Sloan No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Edinburgh United Kingdom Bacteriology Biochemistry Bioinformatics Biotechnology Cell Biology Genetic Engineering Immunology Microbiology Molecular Biology Virology

About the Project

This project is one of 19 four year PhD Studentships funded by Medical Research Scotland ( to be delivered jointly by the named University and External Partner Organisation (EPO). The Studentship will provide the first-class academic and additional training provided by the EPO needed to equip the successful candidate for a science career in an increasingly competitive market.

"Producing broad spectrum antiviral therapeutics from cyanobacteria" to be delivered by the University of Edinburgh [Supervisors: Dr Richard Sloan (Infection Medicine, Deanery of Biomedical Sciences, University of Edinburgh), Dr Attila Molnar and Dr Alistair McCormick (both Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, University of Edinburgh)] and Scotbio (Scottish Bioenergy Cooperative Ventures Limited) ( [External Partner Organisation supervisor: Dr Rocky Kindt, Chief Technology Officer].

The overall aim of this 4-year inter-disciplinary PhD project is to identify antiviral therapeutics that can be extracted from cyanobacteria and to devise methods for their commercial production. The current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has shown us that there is a deficit of on the shelf antiviral compounds with broad activity against a range of viruses. Societal and ecological factors mean that future virus pandemics are completely inevitable. As such there is a pressing need to develop antivirals which can target a range of viral pathogens. Additionally, the current crisis has highlighted issues regarding both the provenance and scale-up of existing candidate antiviral compounds.

Cyanobacteria are used in commercial production of a range of products such as food colorants, however it is known that antiviral molecules can be extracted from species such as Arthrospira platensis. These compounds have a range of activity against viruses such as HIV-1, influenza A virus, coronaviruses and others. However, it is not known which emerging virus families these products are active against, nor is it exactly known how these antiviral molecules work to block virus replication, or how to produce them effectively.

In the first part of this project we will screen molecules against a panel of emerging viruses and define their mode of activity. This will take place in the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. Next we will develop methods to improve the production of antivirals from cyanobacteria suitable for commercial settings. This will occur at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. There will also be an industrial placement with Scotbio for 4 months during the period of study.

The project aims are as follows:

1. To understand which emerging viruses cyanobacteria derived antiviral compounds can inhibit.

2. To define how cyanobacteria derived compounds inhibit virus attachment and entry, other replicative steps, or affect immunological activation.

3. To identify optimal methods for purification of antiviral extracts from cyanobacteria species.

4. To develop methods to enhance production of antiviral compounds from cyanobacteria.

Collectively, this work will identify antivirals and the conditions for their scalable commercial production that they might be used in current and future virus pandemics.

This is an inter-disciplinary project that will provide training and skills in the following areas: molecular and cellular biology, eukaryotic cell culture, virus culture, training in BSL2 and BSL3 laboratories, flow cytometry, biochemical purification, genetic screening, bioinformatics, and cyanobacteria culture.


Enquiries should be sent by email to Dr Richard Sloan:

[Email Address Removed]


Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a first or 2.1 UK honours degree, or equivalent for degrees obtained outside the UK, in a relevant area in the biological or biomedical sciences such as molecular biology, microbiology, biochemistry or immunology.

Applicants should send a CV, the contact details of 2 or 3 referees (including email addresses) and a covering letter, describing your previous research experience (<200 words) and explaining your reasons for applying for this particular project (<200 words), by email to Dr Richard Sloan:

[Email Address Removed]

Please note, your application may be shared with the funders of this PhD Studentship, Medical Research Scotland and Scotbio.

Interviews are expected to take place 3-4 weeks after the closing date for applications. In light of the current coronavirus situation, interviews may be conducted by video conference.

It is anticipated that the PhD Studentship will start 1 October 2021.

Funding Notes

PhD Studentship provides: an annual tax-free stipend of £18,500, increasing to £19,000 over the four years; tuition fees; consumables; and generous travel allowance.

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