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PhD Studentship: Discovery of enzymes for plastic degradation


Location:  UK Other
Closing Date:  Wednesday 22 May 2024
Reference:  SCI260

Dr Luisa Ciano, Dr Anca Pordea and Dr Sam Bryan

Application deadline: open until filled, applications reviewed on a weekly basis

Starting date: Oct 2024

Funded PhD project (UK students only)

Project description

Plastic is a valuable material for a wide range of industrial applications. Polyethylene (PE) is one of the most used plastics, is readily available, light weight and durable. However, PE takes thousands of years to degrade in the environment, leading to a high environmental impact. It is therefore vital that plastic is collected and repurposed back in a circular economy. Similarly, current recycling methods (chemical or mechanical) progressively deteriorate the properties of the material, with the plastic eventually reaching a stage where it can no longer be recycled using current methods and must be disposed of.

We isolated an organism from the environment capable of degrading PE in fermentation at a scale that has not previously been reported. 

The aim of this PhD project is to address the plastic degradation challenge by investigating the processes and enzymes utilised by the isolated organism in the PE-degradation process. Building up from our previous studies, the successful candidate will identify, express and test the activity of a series of enzyme candidates. Suitable methods for testing the enzymatic activity will be developed over the course of the PhD and the enzymes will be characterised via a variety of analytical methods (e.g. biochemical assays, mass-spectrometry, crystallography, etc.) with the goal of gaining insights into enzymatic plastic degradation. 

Shared between the School of Chemistry and Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nottingham, this project will provide extensive training in protein expression and purification, enzyme assays and characterisation, and spectroscopy.

Applications are invited from students with a background in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Natural Sciences or a related discipline, who have or expect to graduate with a first-class or strong 2:1 honours degree, or a distinction or high merit at MSc level. The starting date for the project will be October 2024. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact Dr Luisa Ciano ( and/or Dr Anca Pordea ( for more details or enquiries about the project. 

The position will remain open until filled, applications will be reviewed on a weekly basis, hence interested candidates are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. Formal applications should include CV, cover letter and academic transcripts, and should be made online through the University of Nottingham’s online application system, indicating “Chemistry” for the School and “Dr Luisa Ciano” as the supervisor:

Funding notes

Funding will be confirmed once the applicant is selected. Fully funded studentship to commence in October 2024. UK students only – tuition fees paid and full stipend, tax-free, for 42 months at the RCUK rate (currently £18,622 per annum). International students will be considered only if they hold a scholarship to cover the international fees.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have, or expected to achieve, at least a 2:1 Honours degree in Chemistry or a related subject. A MChem/MSc-4-year integrated Master’s, a BSc + MSc or a BSc with substantial research experience will be highly advantageous. Experience in one or more of the following will also be beneficial (but not essential): biochemistry, biological chemistry, biocatalysis, spectroscopy.

If English is not the candidate’s first language, they must provide evidence before the beginning of the studentship that they meet the University minimum English Language requirements (IELTS 6.0 with at least 5.5 in each element).

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