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SWBio DTP PhD project: Horizontal transfer of antiviral defences between bacterial species

  • 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

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP). The DTP offers an interdisciplinary research training programme delivered by a consortium comprising the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Exeter, Cardiff University and Rothamsted Research, alongside six regional associate partners: Marine Biological Association, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Swansea University, UCB Pharma, University of the West of England and SETsquared Bristol. The partnership has a strong track record in advancing knowledge through high quality research and teaching, in collaboration with industry and government. For more information about the DTP, see

Studentships are available for entry in September/October 2020.

All SWBio DTP projects will follow a structured 4-year PhD model, combining traditional project-focussed studies with a taught first year which includes directed rotation projects.

Overview of this PhD project:

Lead supervisor:
Dr Tiffany Taylor, Department of Biology & Biochemistry (University of Bath)
Prof Edze Westra (University of Exeter)
Dr Tim Rogers (University of Bath)
Prof Angus Buckling (University of Exeter)

The discovery of CRISPR-Cas has arguably been one of the most influential discoveries in biology of the past decades. CRISPR-Cas systems that are encoded on bacterial genomes protect against viral and plasmid infections. This has been utilised to safeguard industrial fermentations, and recently been exploited to eradicate antimicrobial resistance plasmids from microbial communities under laboratory conditions. Furthermore, the recent development of CRISPR-Cas genome editing is facilitating ground-breaking strategies in science, agriculture, medicine and pest management, such as synthetic gene drives to eradicate disease vectors. These examples highlight some of the most significant economic and health impacts that CRISPR-Cas-based technologies are already generating, and further technological advances continue to be developed at a rapid pace.

Many of these applications require that the genes encoding CRISPR-Cas are stably expressed across many generations. Yet, long-term studies that examine genetic and transcriptomic stability of these systems are lacking. Understanding how regulatory networks evolve to facilitate the regulation of novel gene functions will ultimately develop our understanding of fundamental processes, such as how genetic innovations evolve, as well as helping to explain the natural diversity we see in CRISPR-Cas regulatory mechanisms. This project will use a combination of experimental evolution, molecular genetics, synthetic biology and network modelling to understand how CRISPR-Cas transcriptional regulation evolves. Based on classical evolutionary theory, we hypothesise that we can predictably manipulate the way CRISPR-Cas gene regulation evolves in bacteria following the synthetic or natural transfer of CRISPR-Cas genes to a naïve bacterial host. An ability to predictably evolve CRISPR-Cas gene regulation would be truly ground-breaking, and would have clear implications for the use of these systems in industry and in the development of strategies for eradicating antimicrobial resistance.

The project will benefit from expertise in evolution of novel regulatory and genetic innovations (Taylor, Bath), P. aeruginosa CRISPR-Cas evolution (Westra, Exeter), P. fluorescence-phage coevolution (Buckling, Exeter) and regulatory network modelling (Rogers, Bath). Throughout this interdisciplinary project, the student will receive extensive training in experimental evolution, molecular microbiology, genetics and modelling. The student will be based in the Taylor lab as part of the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath (currently 3 PhD students) with opportunities to work in the Westra and Buckling labs at the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the Cornwall campus of the University of Exeter, and with the Rogers lab in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Bath.

Candidate requirements:

Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.

How to apply:

Applications should be submitted on the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biosciences:

Please ensure that you quote the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section. You may apply for more than one project if you wish but you should submit a separate personal statement relevant to each one.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website:

Funding Notes

Studentships provide funding for a stipend at the standard UKRI rate (currently £15,009 per annum, 2019/20 rate), research and training costs and UK/EU tuition fees for 4 years.

UK and EU applicants who have been residing in the UK since September 2017 will be eligible for a full award; a limited number of studentships may be available to EU applicants who do not meet the residency requirement. Applicants who are classed as Overseas for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.50

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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