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Molecular Hydrogen as a Microbial Fuel

Important description
During a disease cycle, pathogenic bacteria optimise their biochemistry to different chemical environments inside the human body. Recurring infections often result because drugs do not yet exist to eradicate bacteria in slow-growing “hibernation” phases. The ability to use molecular hydrogen as a fuel is important to many disease-causing microbes which are responsible for a huge number of deadly infections such as Salmonella and Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
This project will develop cutting edge analytical methods to probe the biochemical relationship between a pathogenic bacteria’s proliferation and the production and activity of its hydrogen catalysts.
Hydrogen metabolism is so important that often multiple hydrogen-enzymes (hydrogenases) are produced by one bacterium. The PhD candidate will probe the structure-function relationship between environmental growth conditions and hydrogenase chemistry. Electrochemistry will be used to quantify how enzymatic activity and enzyme biosynthesis respond to changes in substrate and inhibitor levels in order to determine which hydrogen-catalyst is a more suitable drug target. New methods to visualise changes in electron-transfer redox chemistry as well as active-site catalytic reactions will be created. These will be complemented with crystal structure and spectroscopic studies to build a mechanistic picture of this biological chemistry, and discover efficient ways to shut it down. From a technological clean-energy point of view, it is important that we learn more about the Ni and Fe organometallic centres which catalyse H2 production or oxidation as efficiently as the precious metal platinum.
Due to its interdisciplinary nature this project would suit a graduate with a good degree (2:1 or 1st) in chemistry, biochemistry, physics or biology. The essential requirements are that the student must be enthusiastic, inquisitive, analytical and hands-on, with a passion for learning how an essential biochemical system works. The student will be joining an enzyme-electrochemistry group with close links to Chemistry and Biology and expert training will be provided. Inter- and intra-institutional collaborations will be of fundamental importance to the success of the project, providing an opportunity for development of communication skills and teamwork.
The Department of Chemistry holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students.

Funding Notes:

This project is part of a University of York Department of Chemistry competition for doctoral training grant funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). For UK students it would pay tuition fees and living costs in the form of a stipend. Students from other EU countries may be eligible to apply for this project on a fees only basis. Students from any country who are able to fully fund their own fees and living costs may also apply for this project.

Eligibility and other criteria
Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only): This research project is one of a number of projects at this institution. It is in competition for funding with one or more of these projects. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding. The funding is only available to UK citizens or those who have been resident in the UK for a period of 3 years or more. Some projects, which are funded by charities or by the universities themselves may have more stringent restrictions.

Application deadline
* 08 February 2013

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