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Competition, cooperation, and communication of microbes in complex systems such as biofilms

  • Full or part time
    Dr J U Kreft
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Our group aims to combine theoretical & experimental approaches to understand major problems in the ecology and evolution of microbes such as how cooperative behaviour can evolve in biofilms, how communication by diffusible signals can be kept private in diverse natural communities, why metabolic division of labour has evolved in some microbes but not in others, how phenotypic differences within a population (castes) can improve fitness, how horizontal gene transfer by conjugation affects the fitness of the plasmid, its host, and their populations, etc.

We have focused on biofilms, spatially structured systems with many neighbours close by – likened to live in a city, for studying these problems because spatial structure is a key feature of natural systems yet biofilms are accessible to experimental and modelling studies.
I am seeking motivated PhD students (and postdocs) who share our vision that the future of biology lies in a closed integration of mathematical and experimental approaches since this will allow us to understand how the behaviour of complex systems emerges from the multitude of interactions of its parts.

If you are fascinated by the diversity and complexity of life, would like to work on important problems and could contribute either mathematical or experimental expertise (or of course preferably both) to strengthen a growing team of mostly friendly people based at the Centre for Systems Biology of the University of Birmingham – please do apply. Your project can involve any of the above mentioned or related areas and can be tailored to your interests and experience.

Please see http://www.biosciences.bham.ac.uk/About/staff_profiles_Contact.htm?ID=205 for further information on our group, research interests, and publications for download.

When applying, please explain why you are interested in this project and whether you have mathematical and/or experimental expertise.


To find out more about studying for a PhD at the University of Birmingham, including full details of the research undertaken in each school, the funding opportunities for each subject, and guidance on making your application, you can now order your copy of the new Doctoral Research Prospectus, at: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/students/drp.aspx

Please find additional funding text below. For further funding details, please see the ‘Funding’ section.
The School of Biosciences offers a number of UK Research Council (e.g. BBSRC, NERC) PhD studentships each year. Fully funded research council studentships are normally only available to UK nationals (or EU nationals resident in the UK) but part-funded studentships may be available to EU applicants resident outside of the UK. The deadline for applications for research council studentships is 31 January each year.

Each year we also have a number of fully funded Darwin Trust Scholarships. These are provided by the Darwin Trust of Edinburgh and are for non-UK students wishing to undertake a PhD in the general area of Molecular Microbiology. The deadline for this scheme is also 31 January each year.

Funding Notes

All applicants should indicate in their applications how they intend to fund their studies. We have a thriving community of international PhD students and encourage applications at any time from students able to find their own funding or who wish to apply for their own funding (e.g. Commonwealth Scholarship, Islamic Development Bank).

The postgraduate funding database provides further information on funding opportunities available View Website and further information is also available on the School of Biosciences website View Website


Kreft JU, Booth G, Wimpenny JWT (1998).
BacSim, a simulator for individual-based modelling of bacterial colony growth.
Microbiology 144: 3275-3287

Kreft JU, Picioreanu C, Wimpenny JWT, van Loosdrecht MCM (2001).
Individual-based modelling of biofilms.
Microbiology 147: 2897-2912

Kreft JU (2004).
Biofilms promote altruism.
Microbiology 150: 2751-2760

Kreft JU, Bonhoeffer S (2005).
The evolution of groups of cooperating bacteria and the growth rate versus yield trade-off.
Microbiology 151: 637-641

Costa E, Perez J, Kreft JU (2006).
Why is metabolic labour divided in nitrification?
Trends in Microbiology 14: 213-219

Hense BA, Kuttler C, Müller J, Rothballer M, Hartmann A, Kreft JU (2007).
Does efficiency sensing unify quorum and diffusion sensing?
Nature Reviews Microbiology 5: 230-239

Pérez J, Costa E, Kreft JU (2009).
Conditions for partial nitrification in biofilm reactors and a kinetic explanation.
Biotechnology & Bioengineering 103: 282-295

Kreft JU (2009).
Mathematical modeling of microbial ecology: spatial dynamics of interactions in biofilms and guts.
In Foodborne Microbes: Shaping the Host Ecosystem.
Jaykus LA, Wang HH, Schlesinger LS (eds), pp 347-377. Washington, DC: ASM Press

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)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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