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Using mass spectrometry for structural elucidation of colourful macromolecular machines

Principal Supervisor: Dr Aneika LeneyLink opens in a new window

Co-supervisor: Andrew Lovering

PhD project title: Using mass spectrometry for structural elucidation of colourful macromolecular machines

University of Registration: University of Birmingham

Project outline:

Native mass spectrometry is an expanding structural biology tool to elucidate protein complexes and their functions within cells. This PhD project will firstly involve the development of mass spectrometry approaches (specifically cross-linking mass spectrometry, top-down mass spectrometry and hydrogen deuterium exchange mass spectrometry) to characterise protein systems. The University of Birmingham offers state-of-the-art high resolution mass spectrometers that are pushing the boundaries within native mass spectrometry. The PhD student will be trained in operating this equipment, experience on which is currently highly sought within industry. This gained knowledge with be applied to a variety of structural biological problems working alongside Andrew Lovering’s group.

Within the Leney group, one application of native mass spectrometry will focus on light harvesting complexes within microalgae. These macromolecular complexes contain sub-protein complexes that are some of the most colourful and fluorescent molecules known. They harvest light energy with extreme efficiency, which is something that would be excellent to replicate for use in light transmission to energy in solar panels. Native mass spectrometry will help unravel the molecular details of how these machines operate. This work will also involve training in SDS PAGE, UV-vis spectroscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy and x-ray crystallography. Overall once completed, we envisage the PhD student will have an excellent all-around knowledge in structural biology and have the ability to apply native mass spectrometry to solve biological problems in any context, and thus have multiple opportunities for future employability.


Leney A.C., Heck A.J.R. Native mass spectrometry: what is in the name? J. Am. Soc. Mass Spectrom. (2017) 28(1): 5-13.

Leney A.C., Tschanz A., Heck A.J.R. Connecting color with assembly in the fluorescent B-phycoerythrin protein complex. FEBS J. (2018) 285(1): 178-187.

Recent Press Articles on use of Native Mass Spectrometry (Leney group):


BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Understanding the rules of life Structural Biology, and Microbiology, and Renewable Resources and Clean Growth - Bio energy, and Industrial Biotechnology.


Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

Mass spectrometry (including hydrogen deuterium exchange, crosslinking and native mass spectrometry), liquid chromatography, SDS PAGE, fluorescence and UV-vis spectroscopy, cation exchange chromatography, X-ray crystallography, use of various bioinformatics tools to handle large mass spectrometry datasets.


Contact: Dr Aneika LeneyLink opens in a new window