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Synthesis and evaluation of novel enzyme substrates for use in microbial diagnostics (organic synthesis) (ref: RDFC22/HLS/APP/TURNBULL)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Dr G Turnbull  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


This project builds upon a near 30-year collaboration between Northumbria University, the Freeman Hospital (Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Trust), and bioMérieux – a multinational biotechnology company. Within hospital and industry settings, the rapid detection and differentiation of microorganisms that cause disease is of vital importance. Many techniques involve the use of artificial enzyme substrates which either change colour or become fluorescent in the presence of a particular organism, and in this project you will design and make novel substrates for inclusion in future products.

The Project

As part of a multi-disciplinary team involving chemists and microbiologists, you will design, synthesise, and evaluate new chromogenic and fluorogenic substrates to detect emerging pathogenic microorganisms. This should appeal to graduates who are interested in synthetic organic chemistry with a clinically relevant application, and a willingness to learn more about microbiology.

Your Role

With support of your supervisors, your day-to-day activities will include:

·      Planning multi-step synthetic routes to novel substrates.

·      Carrying out these syntheses in our organic chemistry laboratories.

·      Evaluating substrates at the Freeman Hospital Microbiology Laboratory.

·      Documenting your work for presentation to the commercial partner, bioMérieux, and in support of publication.

·      Joining in with the graduate student culture within the Department of Applied Sciences.


This studentship is open to applications from all science graduates with a background (either taught or project based) in synthetic organic chemistry, and a willingness to learn some microbiological techniques. You will be joining a diverse and growing research team, and Dr Graeme Turnbull is a keen deliverer of STEM outreach activities. You will be encouraged to join the team in developing accessible materials with which to engage the public in your research, demonstrating how the technology can be of use in our everyday lives.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

•       Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non- UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

•       Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

•       Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see


Please note: All applications must include a covering letter (up to 1000 words maximum) including why you are interested in this PhD, a summary of the relevant experience you can bring to this project and of your understanding of this subject area with relevant references (beyond the information already provided in the advert). Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDFC22/…) will not be considered.


Deadline for applications: Sunday 27th March 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Informal enquiries to Dr Graeme Turnbull ([Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

This Full Time studentship is open to Home applicants and supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees.

Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:
• Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
• have settled status, or
• have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
• have indefinite leave to remain or enter.


Cellier-Rastit, M; James, AL; Orenga, S; Perry, JD; Robinson, SN; Turnbull, G; Stanforth SP. “Fluorogenic L-alanylaminopeptidase substrates derived from 6-amino-2-heterylquinolines and 7-amino-3-hetarylcoumarins and their potential applications in diagnostic microbiology.” Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters, 2019, 29, 10, 1227-1231.
Cellier, M; James, AL; Orenga, S; Perry, JD; Turnbull, G; Stanforth, SP; “The synthesis of L-alanyl and β-alanyl derivatives of 2-aminoacridone and their application in the detection and identification of clinically-important microorganisms.” PLoS One, 2016, 11, 7, e0158378.
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