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Using Synthetic Biology to engineer yeast for high value natural products

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Rosser
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

Project Description

Supervisor: Prof Susan Rosser ([email protected]) http://rosser.bio.ed.ac.uk


Introduction: The vast majority of plant-derived natural products (also known as ‘specialised metabolites’) have complex structures and stereochemistry that are beyond the reach of chemical synthesis. Furthermore, most of these compounds cannot be extracted in a sustainable and economical manner from their source plants due to low yield, difficulties in cultivation, or because the source material is a rare or endangered species. There is thus an overwhelming need to find alternative solutions that will enable sustainable and commercially viable harnessing of chemical diversity from the Plant Kingdom. This PhD studentship will join a multidisciplinary UK and US based team (Prof Anne Osbourn at the JIC Norwich and Prof Jay Keasling at Berkeley CA) working on the production of high-value chemicals from plants through expression of biosynthetic enzymes in microbial hosts, focusing on the largest class of plant-derived natural products – the terpenes. Terpenes range from small flavour and fragrance compounds to complex triterpenoids and steroids, and have numerous potential applications across the pharmaceutical, home and personal care, agriculture, food and beverage sectors. The project will provide opportunity for travel and research within collaborators labs both in the UK and US.

Aims: The project will take a synthetic biology approach to the metabolic engineering of yeast with enzymes derived from plants for the production of high value terpenes of pharmaceutical interest.

Context: The studentship will be in the context of the Edinburgh Synthetic Biology Research Centre, a recently funded £14M Centre supporting a 5-year programme of cutting edge research, outreach and translation to deliver cutting-edge tools and technologies and industrial applications for synthetic biology. The four core areas of exploration include:
• DNA Design and Synthesis: Through the Edinburgh Genome Foundry the Centre will develop novel processes and software to address the engineering challenge of fully automating the design and assembly of up to chromosome size DNA constructs.
• Development and Application of Predictive Methodology: Integrating synthetic and systems approaches and single-cell analysis to develop better models for prediction and design.
• Tools and Technologies for Synthetic Biology in Eukaryote Systems: Using high throughput and combinatorial synthetic approaches to design new tools such as well-characterized cell-specific and tunable promoters, high-throughput cell transfection techniques and cell lines containing genome-location targeting sites.
• Responsible Research, Innovation and Governance: We will develop and implement a new understanding of the social and economic impact of this far-reaching technology especially when applied to areas such as stem cells and cell therapy.


The University of Edinburgh has made a £15M in existing and committed funding towards synthetic biology research, in hiring new talent and improving infrastructure. We have recently been awarded ~ £18M in funding via support from the Research Council’s Synthetic Biology for Growth programme and of the BBSRC, EPSRC and MRC. This includes funding to establish a UK centre for DNA synthesis (the Edinburgh Genome Foundry) and one of six UK Centres for Synthetic Biology. Important to this success was to embed colleagues from the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, in particular from the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine. Synthetic Biology in Edinburgh has already attracted the attention of local and international businesses and ~£1M in kind and cash support.


Please follow the instructions on how to apply http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/biology/postgraduate/pgr/how-to-apply

Applicant: The applicant should have or expect to obtain an Honours Degree of 2.1 or above in molecular biology, plant science, cell biology, genetics or biochemistry

Funding Notes

Full funding is available to UK and EU students.

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 109.70

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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