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Synthesis of sugar nucleotide probes: enabling chemistry tools to explore polysaccharide structure-property relationships

   Faculty of Natural Sciences

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  Dr G J Miller  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Polysaccharides are carbohydrate structures containing multiple units of common monosaccharide precursors that are assembled into linear and branched chains where they constitute around 80% of biomass. They provide essential structural roles, aggregating into well-defined systems with different, ultimate physical properties. There is a current global necessity to develop and supply biocompatible, cheap and renewable materials for application across a multitude of industrial sectors. Polysaccharides satisfy many of these material requirements, but this is predicated by a need to first fully understand their higher structural architecture, which is underpinning to their physicochemical and biomaterial properties.

In contrast to the situation with nucleic acids and proteins, polysaccharide architectures are not template-encoded and they are not under direct genomic control. Hence, we currently have no ‘code’ or ‘tool-kit’ with which to understand and manipulate polysaccharide materials. A strategy to circumvent this is to provide a controlled access to defined oligosaccharides. These materials can then be subjected to in depth structural and functional analysis, to learn the rules that control and drive higher order assemblies in polysaccharides; effectively a glycobiology equivalent of site-directed mutagenesis

This PhD will involve the design and synthesis of sugar nucleotide, the biosynthetic building blocks for oligosaccharides. You will be involved in conceiving and synthesising defined, non-natural sugar nucleotides for ultimate in vitro and whole-cell applications to access modified oligosaccharide sequences. These materials will be utilised in conjunction with the industrial partner, Unilever, to perform oligosaccharide physicochemical and functionality screening, with a view to informing polysaccharide structure-property relationships

This is an exciting opportunity to be part of a team interfaced between academia and the speciality chemicals industry (Unilever). The project will be jointly hosted between the Miller and Field groups at the Universities of Keele and Manchester respectively, alongside spending time at the industrial partner and participating in Unilever graduate training activities. You will receive full training in organic/carbohydrate synthesis and biochemical approaches for oligosaccharide synthesis. Transferable skills, including reporting of results orally and in writing, time management, project planning and management will be also developed.

Funding: The project is funded by Keele University for four years - stipend and fees for UK students. Non-UK students would be required to pay the additional overseas fees themselves. The industrial placement will be funded by Unilever.

Qualifications: Applicants should have or expect at least a good 2(i) honours degree (or an equivalent degree) in Chemistry. Any experience in synthetic organic or carbohydrate chemistry is a plus. 

Contact for further information: For informal inquiries regarding the project please contact the academic leads, Prof. Gavin J. Miller: [Email Address Removed] or Prof. Rob Field: [Email Address Removed] and include a CV. Details of current research projects underway in the Miller group can be found here: A formal application (through the advertisement) must be submitted to be considered, where applicants should provide details of their qualifications, including a CV and a personal statement.

Submission: Closing date for applications 31/03/22: Applications (and interviews) will be considered on a rolling basis and the position will be considered filled once a suitable candidate has been identified.

To apply please go to:

and click "Apply" button. Please quote FNS 2021-20 on your application.

Funding Notes

Funding support is provided as follows; 100% UK/EU tuition fees for 4 years from Academic year 2021/22. Stipend support for 4 years at Research Council rates (2021/22 rate £15,609 per annum).
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