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WR DTP project: Extracting high-value organic compounds from anaerobic digestion using engineered protein microreactors

Department of Biology

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Dr M Plevin , Prof J P J Chong No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
York United Kingdom Biochemistry Bioinformatics Biophysics Environmental Chemistry Microbiology Physical Chemistry Structural Biology

About the Project

Anaerobic digestion (AD) utilises a complex microbial community to recover resources from organic waste. These microbes produce short-chain volatile fatty acids (SCFAs) during AD, which are highly valuable to the chemical industry, but challenging to extract in a net zero manner. This project will explore whether a self-regulating protein-based system can be used to extract high value organic molecules from the liquid fraction of AD systems.

Building on novel protein scaffolds that we have recently developed, and which can be functionalised to bind small molecules, you will design and produce engineered self-assembling protein ‘microreactors’ that bind SCFAs and partition them from complex / “dirty” liquid mixtures. Strategies for secretion of proteins from recombinantly engineered bacteria will also be explored. The designed systems will be tested in buffer solutions and models of wastewater from AD.

You will join an interdisciplinary supervisory team within a vibrant research environment comprising expertise in industrial biotechnology, anaerobic digestion and protein engineering, and spend significant time working across these disciplines. You will develop key skills in protein design and engineering and apply them to a real-life problem in industrial biotechnology.

The White Rose DTP in Mechanistic Biology is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the BBSRC WR DTP in Mechanistic Biology. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 4 years. The funding includes:
Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£15,285 for 2020/21)
UK tuition fees (£4,473 for 2021/22)
Research support and training charges (RSTC)
We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions. If English is not your first language, you will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for your country. Please check our website:

START DATE: 1st October 2021
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