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Seeing photosynthesis at the nanoscale: mapping physical properties of light-harvesting biomembranes by high-resolution microscopy and spectroscopy

Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences

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Dr P.G. Adams , Dr G Heath Applications accepted all year round Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Understanding photosynthesis could provide valuable clues for future solar technology and help our understanding of food crops. Solar photons are absorbed by the biomembranes within chloroplasts, where large numbers of Light-Harvesting Complex (LHC) proteins act as a satellite dish for channelling energy to Photosystem (PS) proteins. However, we need a better understanding of the dynamic structure and biophysical properties of the system. We can map the protein structure and arrangement to nanoscale resolution using a technique called Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM). Recent developments in AFM also allow video-speed imaging and measurements of the protein dynamics at the millisecond to microsecond timescale. Fluorescence spectroscopy and microscopy (FM) then allows us to quantify the important optical properties and energy transfer processes which occur within these proteins.

In this project, you will quantify the nanoscale structural dynamics of these proteins using high speed AFM and fluorescence techniques. Firstly, you will study how the so-called “supercomplexes” of PS/LHC proteins can assemble and disassemble in real time with AFM and FM imaging. You will systematically assess the effect of membrane composition and the effect of temperature. This will reveal the interaction strength and remodelling capabilities of these critically important Photosystem clusters. Secondly, you will quantify the flexibility and rearrangement of single LHC proteins with a newly developed ultra-fast height spectroscopy mode of AFM. Here, you will assess the effect of pH, which is thought to trigger changes to these proteins. Finally, you will quantify energy transfer processes of different configurations of proteins using advanced fluorescence spectroscopy. Characterizing the structural arrangement and biophysical properties of these membrane proteins will greatly advance our understanding photosynthesis.

For further information on the project do not hesitate to contact any of the project supervisors by email (Peter Adams - [Email Address Removed] and George Heath - [Email Address Removed]). We are always happy to discuss scientific questions with pro-active candidates. For details on how to apply and admin arrangements, please contact Doctoral College Admissions by email: [Email Address Removed], or by telephone: +44 (0)113 343 5057.

Funding Notes

Funding Eligibility - UK/EU – Leeds Doctoral Scholarship Award, School of Physics & Astronomy Scholarship paying Academic Fees and Maintenance matching EPSRC rate of £15,009 per year for 3 years. Alumni Bursary is available to previous University of Leeds graduates offering 10% discount on Academic Fees.

Funding Eligibility - International Students – China Scholarship Council-University of Leeds Scholarship Award, School of Physics & Astronomy Fee Only Scholarship paying Academic Fees for 3 years, Commonwealth Scholarship and Commonwealth Split Site Scholarships.  Alumni Bursary is available to previous University of Leeds graduates offering 10% discount on Academic Fees.

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