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Viral assemblies for ultrasensitive sensing

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, January 06, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

In the future there will be a number grand challenges that civilisation will have to address. Many of these challenges are likely to be addressed through nanoscale engineering. For example it is already clear that nano-engineering will have a place in clinical monitoring. While future challenges in energy generation may require the development of nano-scale assembles that can efficiently transform light energy into electrical energy. In many cases these nano-assemblies will exploit natural assembles found in nature. This area of research is known as bionanoengineering.

One of the central themes of bionanoengineering is the challenge of exploiting the properties of biological materials. Part of this challenge has been uncovering and harnessing properties of biological components that only emerge following their ordered self-assembly. One biomolecular building block that has received significant interest in the past decade is M13 bacteriophage. M13 bacteriophage is a filamentous virus that infects E. coli that can be simply modified at the genetic and protein level. There have been a number of recent attempts to trigger the ordered assembly of M13 bacteriophage into multi-virion structures, relying on the innate tendency of M13 to form liquid crystals at high concentrations. These have, in general, only yielded simple planar two-dimensional materials. In our laboratory over the past 3 years we have shown how bacteriophage can be assembled in “Pom Pom” like structures with more than 60 bacteriophage fibres attached to each other at one end.

Concurrently, surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) is highly sensitive spectroscopic technique enabling detection down to single molecule levels, via enhancement of localized optical-fields on metallic nanostructures. It offers distinct advantages over other spectroscopic methods for sensing including immediate detection of analytes without complex sample-preparation and undergoes no bleaching. Intelligent engineering of carefully designed and optimised SERS-based devices will enable the next-generation sensing technologies fulfilling multitude criteria. The substrate on which SERS is performed is often the critical component for successful detection. However, reliable and consistent fabrication of highly-sensitive and reproducible SERS-active structures still remains a considerable challenge. SERS-active platforms are often plagued by irreproducibility, instability and lack of tuneability.

Any imperfections in substrates have a significant effect on the ultimate response and therefore SERS requires constant developments of ways of controlling surface architecture. The high-enhancement is usually observed with random metallic nanoparticles, from which only a minute fraction exhibits SERS-activity, substantially effecting signal, exhibiting high-sample variability, aggregation, and poor batch-to-batch repeatability. In contrast, ‘Pom-Pom’ M13-based nanostructures on substrates can intrinsically overcome this problem for highly-stable SERS measurements. However, nano-texturing of plasmonic structures in a robust and cost-effective manner is still challenging.

We will tackle these major challenges by an unprecedented combination of methods in developing structurally defined, optimised M13-SERS-substrates which will be considerably more stable than nanoparticle-based systems, offering more degrees of freedom in the design and tuning of structural parameters, to enable reproducible, multiplex, high-SERS-enhancements.


Dye Aggregate-Mediated Self-Assembly of Bacteriophage Bioconjugates. Tridgett M, Lozano L, Passaretti P, Desai NR, Proctor TJ, Little HA, Logan RT, Arkill KP, Oppenheimer PG, Dafforn TR. Bioconjug Chem. 2018 Nov 21;29(11):3705-3714. Direct detection and measurement of wall shear stress using a filamentous bio-nanoparticle.

Lobo DP, Wemyss AM, Smith DJ, Straube A, Betteridge KB, Salmon AH, Foster RR, Elhegni HE, Satchell SC, Little HA, Pacheco-Gómez R, Simmons MJ, Hicks MR, Bates DO, Rodger A, Dafforn TR, Arkill KP. Nano Res. 2015 Oct;8(10):3307-3315.

Polymerase Chain Reaction on a Viral Nanoparticle. Carr-Smith J, Pacheco-Gómez R, Little HA, Hicks MR, Sandhu S, Steinke N, Smith DJ, Rodger A, Goodchild SA, Lukaszewski RA, Tucker JH, Dafforn TR. ACS Synth Biol. 2015 Dec 18;4(12):1316-25

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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