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Screening micro-algae for bio-surfactants and bio-emulsifiers

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Tony Gutierrez
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

Project Description

Surfactants and emulsifiers are surface-active performance molecules that are used in almost every product and aspect of human daily life. Consequently, they are one of the most important classes of industrial bulk chemicals worldwide, with uses in a wide variety of applications in households, industry and agriculture. However, the chemical industry still provides the bulk of these chemicals through organo-chemical synthesis, which carries with it a stigma of environment incompatibility due to their associated low rates of biodegradation and high aquatic toxicity. Largely driven by consumer demand, industry is looking to replacing many of its synthetic surfactants, including some which are derived from non-renewable or unsustainable sources (animals/plants), with more sustainable, natural and eco-friendly counterparts. Biologically-produced surfactants and emulsifiers (i.e. bio-surfactants and bio-emulsifiers) are associated with being readily biodegradable, displaying low eco-toxicity, and many can exhibit multiple levels of functionality that is a highly desirable trait for many industrial applications. Algae have gained intense interest with respect to producing biofuels and bio-active ingredients, but little is known of their potential for producing surfactants and emulsifiers. Micro-algae could thus offer a viable source for the discovery of novel types of these molecules as they can be produced from renewable sources (CO2) and other waste streams.
The focus of this project will be to screen different species of micro-algae (marine and freshwater) for surfactants and emulsifiers using established methods, and to evaluate these against commercial varieties of these chemicals. To overarching aim is to discover new micro-algal-derived bio-surfactants and bio-emulsifiers that 1) are highly functional and worthy for further development, 2) more acceptable to producers of mass consumer products due to being produced by harmless and non-toxic strains of micro-algae, and 3) can be optimised for mass production and the process be cost effective. The project will benefit from opportunities to engage with a number of companies who use surfactants and emulsifiers.

This PhD is fully funded (stipend and fees covered) for 3.5 years.
To be eligible to apply, you must be a UK citizen or have lived in the UK for at least the past 3 years.

To apply, please send the following to Dr. Tony Gutierrez ([Email Address Removed]): a cover letter, an updated copy of your CV, and the names and contact details of at least two referees who can provide a letter of recommendation on your behalf.

Funding Notes

This PhD studentship is funded for 3.5 years.


1. Decho, A.W., Gutierrez, T. (2017) Microbial extracellular polymeric substances (EPSs) in ocean systems. Frontiers in Microbiology, 8:922. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2017.00922
2. Evans, L., Hennige, S.J., Willoughby, N., Adeloye, A.J., Skroblin, M., Gutierrez, T. (2017) Effect of organic carbon enrichment on the treatment efficiency of primary settled wastewater by Chlorella vulgaris. Algal Research, 24: 368-377.
3. Sałek, K., Gutierrez, T. (2016) Surface-active biopolymers from marine bacteria for potential biotechnological applications. AIMS Microbiology, 2(2): 92-107.
4. Gutierrez, T., Banat, I.M. (2015) Isolation of glycoprotein bioemulsifiers produced by marine bacteria. . In Hydrocarbon and Lipid Microbiology Protocols, Springer Protocols Handbooks, Eds. McGenity, T.J. et al. DOI 10.1007/8623_2015_128, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.
5. Gutierrez, T., Morris, G. and Green, D.H. (2009) Yield and physicochemical properties of EPS from Halomonas sp. Strain TG39 identifies a role for protein and anionic residues (sulfate and phosphate) in emulsification of n-hexadecane. Biotechnology & Bioengineering, 103(1): 207-216.

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