Bio-Acrylic Acid Production from Seaweed (BAAPS)


Annually ~6.3 million tonnes of acrylic acid, with a global market of $12 billion, is industrially synthesised from propylene (a fossil fuel derivative) as a platform chemical for e.g textiles, adhesives, paints. To date, biosynthetic alternatives are too costly or inefficient for industry. This PhD aims to reduce carbon emissions from acrylic acid production by developing a cost-effective microbial biosynthetic route from algal waste. With industrial partner Caledonian Seaweeds Ltd. (CalSea), this PhD provides multidisciplinary training, the environment and award-winning pilot work for the student to build upon and develop/optimise our unique Intellectual Property (IP) for industry. On top of this, the successful applicant will conduct an industrial placement at CalSea.

You will be trained in molecular genetics to generate proprietary microbial strains with enhanced bio-acrylic acid production from abundant metabolites present in farmed macroalgae. The student will learn analytical chemistry techniques, e.g. chromatography and mass spectroscopy, to quantify production of this high-value chemical. They will investigate growth conditions in batch and ultimately in bioreactor settings that optimise bio-acrylic acid production by the strains they generate. Furthermore, you will devise, test, and optimise a method for acrylic acid extraction from the cultured strains. Finally, throughout the PhD, the student will be encouraged to interact with industry to explore routes to market for the IP they develop.

You will receive exceptional training at UEA and CalSea in molecular biology, fermentation, analytical and organic chemistry, coastal fieldwork, industrial networking and in writing publications and IP protection. You will learn good laboratory practice, present your findings at weekly team meetings, high-profile international scientific conferences, and in peer-reviewed scientific publications and your PhD thesis.

We require a committed, pro-active and self-reliant student keen to master a wide range of techniques. Experience in some of the key components is desirable.


1. Curson ARJ, Todd, JD, Sullivan MJ and Johnston AWB (2011). Catabolism of dimethylsulfoniopropionate: microorganisms, enzymes and genes. Nature Reviews Microbiology 9: 849-859.

2. Curson ARJ, Williams BT, Pinchbeck BJ, Sims LP, Martínez AB, Rivera PPL, Kumaresan D, Mercadé E, Spurgin LG, Carrión O, Moxon S, Cattolico RA, Kuzhiumparambil U, Guagliardo P, Clode PL, Raina JB, Todd JD. (2018). DSYB catalyses the key step of dimethylsulfoniopropionate biosynthesis in many phytoplankton. Nature Microbiology. 4: 430-439.

3. Curson ARJ 1, Sullivan MJ, Todd JD, and Johnston AWB (2011). DddY, a periplasmic dimethylsulfoniopropionate lyase found in taxonomically diverse species of Proteobacteria. ISME J 5: 1191–1200.