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Role of bacterial exopolysaccharide in the maintenance of healthy human gut bacteria

   School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr F Cuskin, Dr Neil Rumachik  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Fermented health foods and beverages have gained popularity in recent years, based on the benefits of probiotics for encouraging a healthy and diverse gut microbiota. The microbes found in such health products are lactic acid bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. However, the ability of these organisms to colonise the adult gut is poor and the effects they have are transient, and only apparent if the individual continues to consume the probiotic product. Within the context of enhancing the impact of beneficial gut microbes, little attention has been given to the structurally diverse glycans exopolysaccharides (EPSs) produced and excreted by probiotic strains. Since these glycans also provide a potential carbon source for other members of the microbiota, they have complex, multiple and cascading effects on gut microbial populations. The Bacteroides phyla are the main polysaccharide degraders found in the microbiome, targeting mainly dietary polysaccharides. Whilst many Bacteroides have been studied in terms of dietary polysaccharide breakdown, there is little biochemical data to describe how Bacteroides breakdown polysaccharides derived from other microbes. This project will assess the ability of Bacteroides to degrade lactic acid bacteria EPS using growth studies, microbial community profiling, recombinant protein technology and biochemical analysis of degradation products and enzyme activities. This information will help to elucidate the carbohydrate mediated relationships in the complex environment of the human gut.

This project is a collaboration with Newcastle University and Thermo Fisher Scientific, the student will be based at Newcastle University but will undertake placements with Thermo Fisher Scientific both in the UK and US. The project will develop state of the art mass spectrometry methods for the identification of complex carbohydrates. The project would suit a student with a biochemistry, microbiology or chemistry degree. 


Applications should be made by emailing [Email Address Removed] with:

·        a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees);

·        a covering letter – clearly stating your first choice project, and optionally 2nd ranked project, as well as including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project(s) and at the selected University;

·        copies of your relevant undergraduate degree transcripts and certificates;

·        a copy of your IELTS or TOEFL English language certificate (where required);

·        a copy of your passport (photo page).

A GUIDE TO THE FORMAT REQUIRED FOR THE APPLICATION DOCUMENTS IS AVAILABLE AT https://www.nld-dtp.org.uk/how-apply. Applications not meeting these criteria may be rejected.

In addition to the above items, please email a completed copy of the Additional Details Form (as a Word document) to [Email Address Removed]. A blank copy of this form can be found at: https://www.nld-dtp.org.uk/how-apply.

Informal enquiries may be made to [Email Address Removed]

The deadline for all applications is 12noon on Monday 9th January 2023. 

Funding Notes

CASE studentships are funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for 4 years. Funding will cover tuition fees at the UK rate only, a Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) and stipend. We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


Human gut Bacteroidetes can utilize yeast mannan through a selfish mechanism, Nature 2015
A Bacteroidetes locus dedicated to fungal 1,6-β-glucan degradation: unique substrate conformation drives specificity of the key endo-1,6-β-glucanase. JBC, 2017
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