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Structural Studies on the Killing of Bacterial Prey by the Predatory Bacterium Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Lovering
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus is a small predatory bacterium able to invade and kill many different Gram-negative bacterial prey (including human, animal and crop pathogens; e.g. Pseudomonas, Salmonella, Burkholderia, Escherichia, Acinetobacter and spirochaetes). Our ultimate goal is to understand the “predatosome”, a group of unique proteins that Bdellovibrio uses for invasion and killing, and be able to use Bdellovibrio as a “living antibiotic”. Bdellovibrio collide with prey in a free-living attack phase, then attach to the outer surface and initiate a predatory phase involving membrane penetration and entry into the prey periplasm. Once inside, the point of entry is resealed and, as it enters, Bdellovibrio converts the rod-shaped prey into a stable rounded structure termed the bdelloplast. Prey material may then be digested without interference from competitors; the predator grows into a filament that divides into 4-9 progeny cells which are then released to begin the attack phase anew.

The Lovering laboratory focuses on protein:structure function studies, primarily using x-ray crystallography to determine high-resolution structures of interest. With our collaborators at Nottingham (Sockett group), we are pursuing several project areas at the moment, including (but not limited to), (i) how Bdellovibrio breaches its prey, (ii) regulation of the predatory lifestyle by the important second messanger cyclic-di-GMP, (iii) what the specific function of unique predation-upregulated proteins are (Bdellovibrio possesses a relatively large amount of genes with no strong homology to other organisms), and (iv) how Bdellovibrio manipulates the host cell wall during predation.

The student will learn a variety of techniques including cloning & molecular biology, protein production and purification, x-ray crystallography (from crystallization all the way through until structure modelling, refinement & interpretation), and other various protein biophysical techniques.


To find out more about studying for a PhD at the University of Birmingham, including full details of the research undertaken in each school, the funding opportunities for each subject, and guidance on making your application, you can now order your copy of the new Doctoral Research Prospectus, at:

Please find additional funding text below. For further funding details, please see the ‘Funding’ section.
The School of Biosciences offers a number of UK Research Council (e.g. BBSRC, NERC) PhD studentships each year. Fully funded research council studentships are normally only available to UK nationals (or EU nationals resident in the UK) but part-funded studentships may be available to EU applicants resident outside of the UK. The deadline for applications for research council studentships is typically at the end of January each year.

Each year we also have a number of fully funded Darwin Trust Scholarships. These are provided by the Darwin Trust of Edinburgh and are for non-UK students wishing to undertake a PhD in the general area of Molecular Microbiology. The deadline for this scheme is also typically at the end of January each year.

Funding Notes

All applicants should indicate in their applications how they intend to fund their studies. We have a thriving community of international PhD students and encourage applications at any time from students able to find their own funding or who wish to apply for their own funding (e.g. Commonwealth Scholarship, Islamic Development Bank).

The postgraduate funding database provides further information on funding opportunities available and further information is also available on the School of Biosciences website


Lerner TR, Lovering AL, Bui NK, Uchida K, Aizawa S-I, Vollmer W, Sockett RE. Specialized peptidoglycan hydrolases sculpt the intra-bacterial niche of predatory Bdellovibrio and increase population fitness. Plos. Pathogens 2012 Feb 9th.
Lovering AL, Capeness MJ, Lambert C, Hobley L, Sockett RE. The Structure of an unconventional HD-GYP Protein from Bdellovibrio Reveals the Roles of Conserved Residues in This Class of Cyclic-di-GMP Phosphodiesterases. mBio. 2011 Oct 11;2(5).

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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