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Structural biology of nucleic acid processing machines from human viruses

Department of Chemistry

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Prof A A Antson , Dr P Fogg No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Viruses are the most common biological entities on our planet, infecting all living things. Some viruses, like SARS-CoV-2 pose an immediate and major threat to public health. Other viruses, like herpes and poliovirus, although initially less pathogenic, are impossible to eradicate using current treatments and can persist indefinitely, often leading to serious health complications including cancer.

Viruses can only replicate inside host cells. During infection, the virus uses specialized molecular machines to copy its genes and to load them into protective capsules, which then spread to other cells. This project will employ cryo-Electron Microscopy and X-ray crystallography to image the machines and watch them in action.

Depending on student interests and research progress in the laboratory over 2020-2021, the project will focus on a set of closely related viruses, addressing some of the following research questions: (i) what is the structure of the nucleocapsid protein from SARS-CoV-2 (that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19) and how it differs from nucleocapsids of other coronaviruses; what is the role of nucleocapsid in coronavirus pathogenicity and viral genome protection?; (ii) what is the structure and mechanism of genome packaging motors of dsDNA viruses, such as herpes? (iii) How viruses, such as herpes and coronaviruses, assemble and how they store genetic information?

The research outputs will inform the development of novel diagnostic approaches and treatments.

The project is suitable for students who have strong interest in cryo-EM, virology and mechanism of nucleic acid processing machines. Applicants should have a background in biochemistry and/or biophysics.

All Chemistry research students also have access to our innovative Doctoral Training in Chemistry (iDTC): cohort-based training to support the development of scientific, transferable and employability skills:

The White Rose DTP in Mechanistic Biology is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. The Department strives to provide a working environment which allows all staff and students to contribute fully, to flourish, and to excel: This PhD project is available to study full-time or part-time (50%) unless you require a student visa to study in the UK when you should check the restrictions of your visa as it is very likely you will have to study full time.

This PhD will formally start on 1 October 2021. Induction activities will start on 27 September.

For more information about the project, click on the supervisor’s name above to email the supervisor. For more information about the application process or funding, please click on email institution

Funding Notes

This project is part of the BBSRC White Rose Doctoral Training Programme in Mechanistic Biology. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 4 years. The funding includes:

Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£15,285 full time for 2020/21)
UK tuition fees (£4,473 for 2021/22)
Research support and training charges (RSTC)

International candidates (including EU) will be considered however the fee difference would need to be covered from other sources. International tuition fees for 2021 entry is £22,250.

Not all projects will be funded; a limited number of strong candidates will be appointed via a competitive process.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions. If English is not your first language, you will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for your country. Please check our website:

HOW TO APPLY: Submit an application for a PhD in Biological Chemistry:
If you are applying for more than one PhD in Biological Chemistry project you do not need to submit separate applications but can list them on the same form. However, if you are applying for a PhD in Chemistry or a PhD in Mechanistic Biology, you will need to submit a separate application

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