Biological Sciences

PhD Projects

The listing below is for projects which are currently recruiting students. The majority of these are advertised in autumn and filled in January-March the following year. However we often have funded projects available outside this period, so please check back regularly.

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Project Titles

Supervisor Topic
Dr Elise Cachat *EASTBIO* Developing genome-editing techniques to investigate biomineralisation in coccolithophores

Project Details

*EASTBIO* Developing genome-editing techniques to investigate biomineralisation in coccolithophores


Supervisors:  Dr Fabio Nudelman (, Dr Elise Cachat ( and Dr Dominic Campopiano (


Biomineralisation is the dynamic process whereby an organism employs a range of specialized proteins, lipids and polysaccharides to control mineral precipitation and produce a functional mineralised structure. Coccolithophores are unicellular marine algae that produce coccoliths – disk-shaped assemblies of calcium carbonate crystals in the form of calcite – that play an important role in the global carbon cycle, allowing the excess greenhouse CO2 to be removed from Earth atmosphere through photosynthesis and calcification. The formation of the calcite disks is a fascinating process that is carried out within mineralisation vesicles inside the cells, where polysaccharides are thought to control the nucleation, growth and morphology of the crystals (Sviben et al., 2016). Once the mineralisation is complete, the vesicle is transported to the cell membrane and the mature mineral is extruded. While the roles of the polysaccharides in controlling crystal nucleation and growth have been investigated over several years, the biochemical pathways that control mineralisation are still unknown. In particular, genetic models that will enable a detailed in vivo study of the specific role of particular proteins and signalling pathways to biomineralisation are lacking in coccolithophores.


Two recent developments have opened up a largely unexplored route of genetic manipulation in these microorganisms: (i) a new method for DNA nuclear transfer in Pleurochrysis carterae, a member of the coccolithophore family (Endo et al., 2016); and (ii) the genome of the dominant coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi was sequenced (Read et al., 2013). This project aims at building upon these recent advances to:

1. develop efficient methods of genome-editing in these coccolithophorid algae;

2. engineer fluorescently-tagged reporter models for key components of the mineralisation vesicle (e.g. actin, tubulin);

3. monitor by real time fluorescent microscopy the transport and extrusion of mineralisation vesicles in different species;

4. investigate the role of sphingolipid biosynthesis and trafficking in this transport.


The supervisory team of this project merges expertise in chemistry/biomineralisation (FN,, sphingolipid metabolism (DC, and molecular genetics (EC,, which, in addition to training in scientific research and analytical methods, will ensure the acquisition of skills in several areas, including electron microscopy and crystallography, cell culture, cellular and molecular biology techniques and fluorescence/confocal microscopy.

Further Information:

Project and application details can be found at the website below. You must follow the instructions on the EASTBIO website for your application to be considered.


Deadline for applications: 22 May 2017This opportunity is only open to UK nationals (or EU students who have been resident in the UK for 3+ years immediately prior to the programme start date) due to restrictions imposed by the funding body. (and submit your application via the link for the School of Chemistry)


Sviben, S. et al. A vacule-like compartment concentrates a disordered calcium phase in a key coccolithophorid alga. Nature Comm. 7, 11228 (2016).

Endo, H. et al. Stable Nuclear Transformation System for the Coccolithophorid Alga Pleurochrysis carterae. Sci. Rep. 6, 22252 (2016).

Read, B.A. et al. Pan genome of the phytoplankton Emiliania underpins its global distribution. Nature 499: 209-13 (2013).

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