Protein engineering of synthetic enzyme switches for the next generation for infectious-disease and toxin diagnostics. (BBSRC CASE Studentship with Dstl)


Prof. Lars Jeuken

Prof. Christoph Walti

Project description

There is an ever-increasing demand for better, more reliable, more cost-effective, faster point-of-care (PoC) diagnostic tools. Rapid, PoC diagnostics are vital in our protection from and containment of infectious diseases and toxins.This PhD projects is a collaboration with Dstl and aims to develop novel biosensor platforms with improved accuracy and sensitivity. The majority of biosensors use passive capture molecules, such as (biomimetic) antibodies, as ‘recognition elements’ (capture molecule). However, while antibody binding is generally highly specific, detecting binding events requires expensive equipment (e.g. surface plasmon resonance) or multistep reaction sequences (e.g. ELISA). Furthermore, non-specific binding of other molecules can lead to false-positive signals. Here, these bottlenecks will be targeted by a modular design of ‘active’ enzymatic capture molecules (synthetic enzyme switches), where enzyme activity directly reports on an binding event. Diagnostic devices will use colorimetric or electrochemical detection of enzyme-switch activity to quantify concentrations of toxins or components of the causative agent of an infectious disease. In this project, you will create active enzymatic capture molecules using a range of molecular biology and molecular nanotechnology approaches. You will engineer and create colorimetric or electrochemical biosensors to exploit the enzymatic activity of the capture molecule.

Your PhD project will be split between the Faculties of Biological Sciences, where the active molecular components for the sensing will be developed and Dstl, where biomimetic antibodies will be selected, and Engineering where the biosensor assay and hardware will be engineered. PhD students will undertake a fully-funded 3-month secondment at Dstl. The collaboration between two Faculties at the University of Leeds and the diagnostics group at Dstl will provide you with a vibrant highly interdisciplinary research environment, and a complementary range of both, state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure and expertise . In particular, through the collaboration with Dstl, you will gain experience in detection and diagnostics technology in national security research.

You will need to have a degree in a relevant discipline, such as Biochemistry, Molecular Biology or Engineering with a Nanotechnology and/or Biology focus. You need to have a background and/or interest in molecular diagnostics, nanotechnology, biochemistry, synthetic biology and clinical applications of science.

Entry requirements

Candidates should have, or be expecting, a 2.1 hons at Undergraduate level or above, in a relevant subject. If English is not your first language, you will need a recognised English Language qualification to be admitted onto any of the University's degree programmes:

How to apply

Please apply online

Please include supervisor name and project title.  A research proposal is not required.  Please upload a CV and transcripts.

How to apply (email)

How to apply (phone)

+44 (0)113 343 8186