Developing bacterial nanowires for light-driven catalysis


Inspired by natural photosynthesis and addressing limitations of purely synthetic approaches, this PhD project aims to provide proof of principle for light-driven chemical synthesis through the design and assembly of novel inorganic:biological hybrid materials.

The project will establish methods to combine robust, synthetic light-harvesting materials with non-photosynthetic bacteria in a sustainable solution to delivering chemical transformations. The surface of Shewanella bacteria will be site-selectively labelled with light-harvesting molecules using detailed knowledge of the MTR protein complex, a biological molecular wire, that conducts electrons across the bacterial outer membrane. In this way, absorption of light will drive electrons across the bacterial outer membrane and, in turn, redox catalysis by enzymes inside the bacterium. During the project MTR variants will be designed to present different sites for labelling. The variants will be purified, labelled and incorporated into vesicles where their ability to perform light-driven electron transfer across a lipid bilayer will be quantified. For the best-performing MTR variants, protocols for their labelling on bacteria will be established, and light-driven production of fuels, for example, hydrogen (from water) and formate (from the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide), will be quantified.

This PhD will be supervised by Prof Julea Butt and research performed in collaboration with the groups of Dr Tom Clarke (UEA) and Prof Erwin Reisner (Cambridge). Working with a dynamic team in a supportive environment you will be trained to become expert in protein chemistry, photochemistry, spectroscopy, molecular biology, protein purification, enzymology and analytical chemistry.

Informal enquiries can be made to Prof Julea Butt ( with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. The successful candidate should have (or expect to have) a UK Honours Degree (or equivalent) at 2.1 or above in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Natural Sciences, Chemical Engineering or a related subject and have interests in synthetic biology, chemical biology, spectroscopy and photochemistry.