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Using Synthetic Biology to Engineer an Industrially Relevant Chassis for the Built Environment (Ref: ET20/HLS/APP/JAMES)

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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Dr P James No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The world’s first research Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment (HBBE is a £8M initiative between Northumbria and Newcastle Universities funded by Research England that aims to catalyse innovation to develop a building industry fit for the 4th industrial revolution. The Hub is a strategic expansion that will soon including 13 new academic staff, including Biologists, Architectural Designers and Engineers, supported by 5 PDRAs, 14 PhD students and 3 support staff. This will include 3 new research facilities that will integrate our research: the Micro Bio-Design Lab (Northumbria), the Macro Bio-Design Lab (Newcastle) and a unique Experimental ‘Living’ House, ‘The OME’.

One of the main aims of the HBBE is to develop new microbial technologies that will act as a “building’s metabolism”, turning domestic waste into energy and other high value products. A Key feature of the HBBE will be a ‘Living Lab’ known as the OME; a timber framed experimental building that will house microbial bioreactors allowing a building to process its waste in situ.

The Geobacillus are facultative anaerobic bacteria that have the ability to survive and grow at high temperatures and to utilise and synthesise a wide range of biochemical compounds. Geobacilli therefore have huge potential for a range of industrial applications, but exploiting that potential is hampered by the limited number of predictable genetic tools available to engineer the bacterium.

This project aims to further our understanding of this industrially relevant organism so that it can be used effectively within the OME bioreactors. The project will involve the further development of a number of genetic regulatory elements across the Geobacillus genus to improve predictable gene expression and use a range of synthetic biology techniques such as modelling and a design of experiments approach to look at the balancing of synthetic pathways to maximise the outputs from the organism within the bioreactor. A range of different pathways and enzymes will be studied in this project and there is also the potential to undertake some enzyme engineering depending on the candidate’s research interests.

The successful candidate will receive a broad training in molecular biology, synthetic biology and metabolic engineering and have access to a wide range of state of the art multi-omic facilities that will be used as part of this project. The student will join an exciting multi-disciplinary environment within the HBBE that will allow the project to draw upon the expertise of surrounding researchers.

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.

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

Please note: Applications should include a covering letter that includes a short summary (500 words max.) of a relevant piece of research that you have previously completed and the reasons you consider yourself suited to the project (this should be uploaded into the Research Proposal section of your application instead of a research proposal). Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. ET20/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 1st July 2020
Start Date: 1st Oct 2020

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

For informal enquiries please contact Dr Paul James ([Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home and EU students with a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2020/21, this is £15,285pa) and full Home/ EU Fees.


Welsh, C., Pike, L., Elliott, J., Bailey, J., Quintin-Baxendale, R., Billington, J., James, P. et al. Why is it so hard to enact responsible change? EMBO reports n/a, e49493. doi:10.15252/embr.201949493.

Gilman, J., Singleton, C., Tennant, R. K., James, P., Howard, T. P., Lux, T., et al. (2019). Rapid, Heuristic Discovery and Design of Promoter Collections in Non-Model Microbes for Industrial Applications. ACS Synth. Biol. 8, 1175–1186. doi:10.1021/acssynbio.9b00061.

Tennant, R. K., Ayine, M. L., Power, A. L., Gilman, J. A., Hewlett, M., James, P., et al. (2019). A Hybrid Sequencing Approach Completes the Genome Sequence of Thermoanaerobacter ethanolicus JW 200. Microbiol Resour Announc 8, 343. doi:10.1128/MRA.01530-18.

James, P., Isupov, M. N., Sayer, C., Saneei, V., Berg, S., Lioliou, M., et al. (2014). The structure of a tetrameric α-carbonic anhydrase from Thermovibrio ammonificans reveals a core formed around intermolecular disulfides that contribute to its thermostability. Acta Crystallogr D Biol Crystallogr 70, 2607–2618. doi:10.1107/S1399004714016526.

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