Harnessing archaea for antibiotic discovery and development


The discovery and development of penicillin sparked ‘The Golden Age of Antibiotics’ which spanned the 1940’s to 1960’s when most major classes of antibiotics were discovered. Indeed, most antibiotics in clinical use today are derived from natural products made by bacteria. Alarmingly, however, the pipeline of new antibiotics has dried up at a time when the continued evolution of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) presents a significant threat to global health and new antibiotics with novel mechanisms of action are urgently needed.

The development of new antibiotics is a highly interdisciplinary activity that requires teamwork. It also requires an understanding of how antibiotics inhibit the growth of their target pathogens.

This project is a collaboration between the groups of Laura Lehtovirta-Morley (University of East Anglia) and Barrie Wilkinson, Matt Hutchings, Dmitry Ghilarov and Tony Maxwell (John Innes Centre). The aim is to develop archaeal species as new tools for determining antibiotic mechanism of action.

The successful candidate will be studying a new family of highly potent antibiotics called the formicamycins for which we have not yet been able to generate resistance in the laboratory. They will have access to cutting-edge research facilities as well as a stimulating research and training environment and will be part of a cross-disciplinary team focussed on antibiotic discovery.

The project provides an exceptional training opportunity in molecular microbiology, antibiotic function and development, antimicrobial resistance, protein purification and biochemical analysis, biophysical techniques, structural biology, and bioinformatics which is essential to the next generation of bioscientists.

The candidate will be supported in acquiring transferable skills such as written and spoken communication, problem solving and critical thinking, and will help train visitors to the lab to gain skills in knowledge exchange.

This combination of skills and experience will make the candidate highly employable in both academia and industry.


[1] Z. Qin et al (2017) Formicamycins, antibacterial polyketides produced by Streptomyces formicae isolated from African Tetraponera plant-ants. Chem. Sci. 8:3218.

[2] L. Lehtovirta-Morley et al (2016) Isolation of ‘Candidatus Nitrosocosmicus franklandus’, a novel ureolytic soil archaeal ammonia oxidiser with tolerance to high ammonia concentration. FEMS Microbiol. Ecol. 92:fiw057.

[3] M. I. Hutchings, A. W. Truman & Barrie Wilkinson (2019) Antibiotics: past, present and future. Curr. Opin. Microbiol. 51:72-80.

[4] C. J. I.Murray et al (2022) Global burden of bacterial antimicrobial resistance in 2019: a systematic review. Lancet 399:629.