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Characterisation and development of bacterial biosurfactants for biotechnological applications

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.

The focus of this project will be to: (i) characterise new types of biosurfactants that are produced by marine bacteria; (ii) assess their functionality based on commercial counterparts; and (iii) evaluate these new biomolecules for potential biotechnological applications. The project avails of providing a large collection (greater than 800 strains) of marine bacteria that were originally isolated from various coastal and open ocean waters around the world. The strain collection consists of novel bacterial species, originally isolated for their ability to degrade petrochemicals, and shown promise to produce novel types of biosurfactants. The project will benefit from opportunities to engage with companies who use these types of chemicals.

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 (): a cover letter, an updated copy of your CV, and the names and contact details of at least three(3) professional 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. Sałek, K., Gutierrez, T. (2016) Surface-active biopolymers from marine bacteria for potential biotechnological applications. AIMS Microbiology, 2(2): 92-107.
3. 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.
4. 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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