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Using light to weigh membrane proteins in lipid bilayers


College of Health and Life Sciences

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Prof R M Bill No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
Birmingham United Kingdom Bioinformatics Molecular Biology

About the Project

Applications are invited for a four year Postgraduate studentship, supported by the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership (MIBTP) and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), to be undertaken within the Aston Membrane Protein & Lipids (AMPL) research centre at Aston University. The studentship is offered in collaboration with Refeyn Ltd.

The position is available to start October 2021.

Financial Support

This studentship includes a fee bursary to cover the Home fees rate, plus a maintenance allowance of at least £15,285 (subject to eligibility). This application is only available to Home-fee paying students.

Background to CASE Studentships

CASE studentships are designed to provide students with a first-rate challenging research training experience within the context of a mutually-beneficial research collaboration between academic and non-academic partner organisations. Joint supervision should provide the student with a unique and broadening perspective on the impact of collaborative research, and allows the student to acquire novel skills and expertise. 

Through the industrial placement a CASE student will gain a wider understanding of, for example, applied research or policy development that will enhance their future career prospects. In addition to experience of an industrial research environment, the student will receive business-related training, for example, in project-management, business strategy and/or finance. BBSRC stipulates a placement period of a minimum of 3 months, and up to a maximum of 18 months. The required placement period can be accrued through a number of shorter placements, if appropriate. Click here for full details on CASE studentships. 

Project Outline

Protein-protein interactions are fundamental to life. Investigating them is therefore central to understanding fundamental physiological processes and is the key to defining and characterizing drug targets. Notably, membrane proteins are the targets of the majority of prescription pharmaceuticals. Whilst there is a wide range of techniques available to study soluble proteins, membrane proteins remain challenging targets due to the nature of the lipid bilayer in which they reside. It is known that there is a direct relationship between lipid composition and membrane protein activity, meaning that this challenge must be addressed if we are to understand the full workings of cells. This requires an ability to study label-free, native membrane proteins in realistic lipid environments.

Refeyn produces analytical instruments that measure the mass of individual molecules directly in solution. Mass photometry transforms our ability to characterise the composition, structure and dynamics of biomolecules, revealing the true behaviour of molecules in their native environment.

Aston’s Membrane Protein & Lipids (AMPL) group has pioneered the purification and characterization of recombinant and native membrane proteins in lipid bilayers using styrene maleic acid copolymers. We also have extensive experience of purifying soluble proteins.

This CASE studentship provides a unique opportunity to explore the use of mass photometry on supported lipid bilayers to measure the interaction of soluble proteins with a membrane protein embedded in that bilayer. This will reveal important mechanisms of soluble-membrane protein interactions, literally shedding light on these valuable drug targets.

The project will involve membrane protein expression in a suitable host cell followed by solubilisation using either traditional detergents or novel polymers. Subsequently, the purified protein will be incorporated into a supported lipid bilayer and the interaction of known binding partners measured. We will study interactions such as those of a membrane protein to an antibody and a native soluble protein and its cognate membrane-bound receptor. The project would suit an applicant with an interest in membrane protein biochemistry and biophysics as well as the development of novel technologies in a commercial environment.

Person Specification

The successful applicant should have been awarded, or expect to achieve, a Masters degree in a relevant subject with a 60% or higher weighted average, and/or a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree (or an equivalent qualification from an overseas institution) in a relevant subject. Full entry requirements for Aston University are detailed on our website

Evidence of quantitative training is required. For example, AS or A level Maths, IB Standard or Higher Maths, or university level maths/statistics course. Full entry and eligibility requirements for MIBTP are on their website

Contact information

For formal enquiries about this project contact Prof Roslyn Bill: [Email Address Removed]

Submitting an application

Details of to apply for this MIBTP CASE studentship and the required documents can be found here.

If you require further information about the application process please contact the Postgraduate Admissions team: [Email Address Removed]



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