Understanding and Engineering a Natural Herbicide from Cyanobacteria


Bacteria have an incredible capacity to produce natural products with exquisite bioactivities, which makes these compounds excellent candidates as medicines and agrochemicals. Cyanobacteria are an important source of natural products, although only a limited number are currently used in agriculture or medicine. Working with industrial partner Syngenta, this CASE PhD studentship aims to understand and engineer the production of herbicidal molecules from cyanobacteria. To achieve this goal, this project will involve molecular biology, gene expression, natural products chemistry and cyanobacterial microbiology.

This multidisciplinary project will be based in the laboratory of Dr Andrew Truman in the Department of Molecular Microbiology at the John Innes Centre, which has world-class facilities for bacterial genetics and natural product biosynthesis. Cyanobacteria expertise is provided by secondary supervisor Dr David Lea-Smith (University of East Anglia), who is an expert in the physiology, biotechnology and genetics of Cyanobacteria. Three months of the project will be spent at Syngenta research laboratories in the UK.

This project provides an exciting opportunity to understand the biosynthesis of bioactive molecules and develop skills across genetics, mass spectrometry, cyanobacterial physiology and natural products chemistry (such as liquid chromatography and NMR). Applications are welcomed from students across the biological and chemical sciences with a desire to work on a multidisciplinary project.


1. Eyles, T. H., Vior, N. M., Lacret, R. & Truman, A. W. Understanding thioamitide biosynthesis using pathway engineering and untargeted metabolomics. Chem. Sci. 12, 7138–7150 (2021).

2. Russell, A. H., Vior, N. M., Hems, E. S., Lacret, R. & Truman, A. W. Discovery and characterisation of an amidine-containing ribosomally-synthesised peptide that is widely distributed in nature. Chem. Sci. (2021). doi:10.1039/D1SC01456K

3. Vasudevan, R. et al. CyanoGate: A Modular Cloning Suite for Engineering Cyanobacteria Based on the Plant MoClo Syntax. Plant Physiol. 180, 39–55 (2019).