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Understanding how magnetotactic bacteria respond to magnetic fields

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  • Full or part time
    Dr William Durham
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Some species of bacteria are magnetotactic, meaning that they have the unique capacity to sense and respond to magnetic fields. These bacteria possess magnetite nanoparticles called magnetosomes, which allow them to align with external magnetic fields like a compass needle. We can control the movement of these bacteria from afar by simply manipulating the magnetic fields that they experience. This capability has tremendous potential in biotechnological applications, for example, it may allow us to use cells as controllable drug delivery devices.

Magnetotactic bacteria propel themselves using flagella, which are corkscrew shaped appendages that generate thrust when they rotate. However, little is known how the rotation of the flagella is affected by magnetic fields. The aim of this project is to study the interplay between the magnetosome and the flagellum using a range of approaches, such as automated cell tracking, algorithm development, mathematical modelling, biochemistry, structural biology, genetics, molecular biology, and microfluidics. While highly interdisciplinary, this project can be tailored to suit the student’s interests.

This project will be jointly supervised by Dr Julien Bergeron (Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology), Dr Sarah Staniland (Department of Chemistry), and Dr William Durham (Department of Physics and Astronomy).

Science Graduate School:
As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School – a community of postgraduate researchers working across biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and psychology. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

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