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Structure-function studies of Coxiella burnetii O-antigen biosynthesis. PhD in Biosciences studentship (SWBio DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, December 02, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Prof Nicholas Harmer, Department of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
- Prof Clive Butler, Department of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
- Prof Joann Prior, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter EX4 4QJ

Programme Overview
The South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP) is led by the University of Bristol, together with the Universities of Bath, Cardiff and Exeter, alongside Rothamsted Research. This partnership also includes the following collaborative partners; Marine Biological Association (MBA), Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), Swansea University, UCB Pharma, University of the West of England (UWE) and SETsquared Bristol.

These institutions represent a distinctive group of bioscience research staff and students, with established international, national and regional networks, and widely recognised research excellence. As research leaders, we have a strong track record in advancing knowledge through high-quality research and teaching, in partnership with industry and the government.

The programme particularly aims to provide students with outstanding interdisciplinary research training within the following themes:
- Advancing the frontiers of bioscience discovery
- Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food
- Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

Importantly this research training is also underpinned by transformative technologies, allowing you to expand the boundaries of your research through innovative tools, technologies and approaches.

For more information about the programme structure, please visit

Funding for 2020/21
These studentships are available to UK and EU nationals who have established UK residency (EU nationals must have ordinarily lived in the UK throughout the three years preceding the start of the studentship).

Project Description

In this project, you will determine the mechanisms of two enzymes involved in Coxiella burnetii O-antigen biosynthesis. C. burnetii is an endemic pathogen of livestock, causing abortions, and is also a human pathogen. Its O-antigen is a strong vaccine candidate, and the biosynthesis requires novel enzymatic activities. The aim of the project will be to determine the structures of these enzymes using X-ray crystallography or cryo-electron microscopy as appropriate; and to relate the structure to function using a series of enzymatic approaches and molecular dynamics. This project will contribute to a wider programme aimed at using the O-antigen as a vaccine candidate against C. burnetii.

The project will offer the opportunity to learn a wide range of skills, including protein chemistry, molecular biology, structural biology, enzymology and molecular modelling. There will also be considerable opportunities to interact with the partner Dstl, and other collaborators in our wider network. The project will offer a challenging and interdisciplinary PhD in cutting edge research areas. All of these methods are well established in the supervisor’s group and their collaborators. There will be opportunities to also learn associated methods that the laboratories specialise in as the project develops. This project will be based in the recently established Living Systems Institute in Exeter, which houses a diverse group of leading interdisciplinary researchers. You will join a vibrant group of young researchers with interests across a range of diseases.

To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet both the academic and residence criteria in line with UKRI guidelines. Please see the following webpage for further details

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover:

• a stipend* at the standard UKRI rate; currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-2020
• research and training costs
• tuition fees (at the standard UKRI rate)
• additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship

Funding Notes

SWBio DTP funded CASE studentship available for September 2020 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20, on a full time basis.

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