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Engineering and Structural Characterisation of Photovoltaic Proteins for Applications in (Photo)Synthetic Biology

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Photosynthetic reaction centres are nature’s nanoscale solar batteries, and are attracting growing interest as power modules for applications in synthetic biology. A central aim of the research in our laboratory is to develop the purple bacterial reaction centre as a photovoltaic material for use in a variety of nanoscale and macroscale contexts, including biosolar cells, biosensors, biocomputing and new molecular photocatalysts. A key underpinning technology for all of these applications is the interfacing of natural photosynthetic proteins with man-made materials that act either as electrodes or as solid supports for catalysis. Development of this technology requires re-engineering of protein surfaces that have evolved to facilitate natural protein-protein and protein-ligand interactions into surfaces that interface in a specific, stable and productive manner with man-made materials. One promising approach is to exploit protein sequence motifs that show selective affinity for one of a variety of common electrode materials such as TiO2, ZnO, SiO2, carbon nanotubes, platinum and gold.

The purpose of the project will be to engineer such peptide sequences into the purple bacterial reaction centre, either into surface-exposed loops or as N- or C-terminal extensions, to examine the resulting affinity of the protein for specific materials, to assess the photovoltaic and photocatalytic capacity of the engineered proteins and to examine the structures of the engineered proteins through X-ray crystallography. This project will provide training in computer modelling of protein structure, molecular biology, membrane protein biochemistry, microbiology, X-ray crystallography, photoelectrochemistry and steady-state and time-resolved spectroscopy. The project will form part of a network of collaborations with biochemists, chemists, physicists, engineers and materials scientists that encompasses laboratories in the UK, Netherlands, Italy, France, Poland and Singapore, and there will be opportunities to visit these groups to gain first hand experience of specialist techniques.

Keywords membrane protein, photochemistry, reaction center, photovoltaics, photocatalysis, bio-solar cells


Swainsbury, D.J.K., Scheidelaar, S., van Grondelle, R., Killian, J.A. and Jones, M.R. (2014) Bacterial reaction centers purified with styrene maleic acid copolymer retain native membrane functional properties and display enhanced stability. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 53, (in press - DOI: 10.1002/anie.201406412)

Swainsbury, D.J.K., Friebe, V.M., Frese R.N. and Jones, M.R. (2014) Evaluation of a biohybrid photoelectrochemical cell employing the purple bacterial reaction centre as a biosensor for herbicides. Biosensors and Bioelectronics 58, 172-178.

Tan, S.C., Crouch, L.I., Jones, M.R. and Welland, M.E. (2012) Generation of alternating current in response to discontinuous illumination by novel photoelectrochemical cells based on photosynthetic proteins. Angewandte Chemie International Edition 51, 6667–6671

den Hollander, M.-J., Magis, J.G., Fuchsenberger, P., Aartsma, T.J., Jones, M.R. and Frese R.N. (2011) Enhanced photocurrent generation by photosynthetic bacterial reaction centers through molecular relays, light-harvesting complexes and direct protein-gold interactions. Langmuir 27, 10282-10294

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