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Regulating light controlling switches in photosynthesis to mitigate the effects climate change

Principal Supervisor: Dr Aneika Leney

Secondary Supervisor(s): Prof Helen Cooper

University of Registration: University of Birmingham

BBSRC Research Themes:

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Deadline: 4 January, 2024

Project Outline

Carbon dioxide levels are increasing causing global warming. To prevent this, enhancing natural carbon sequestration is vital. Billions of years ago, cyanobacteria absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere, creating the oxygen levels needed to kick-start life as we know it on planet Earth. Could cyanobacteria again be the solution to combatting climate change?

Cyanobacteria are extremely effective at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere due to their highly efficient photosynthetic machinery. However, photosynthesis within cyanobacteria is not always efficient and switches on and off according to what the cyanobacteria itself needs. Manipulating this machinery to enhance photosynthesis and carbon sequestration from the atmosphere is a challenge. Moreover, little is understood about how photosynthesis within cyanobacteria is controlled.

This PhD project will develop and utilise ground-breaking technology to work out why photosynthesis varies in efficiency and use this to determine how to make it more efficient. The project will involve working with colourful photosynthetic proteins and extracting these from cyanobacteria to determine how they function. Training in a wide range of biophysical techniques will be provided to help tackle the problem; one technique of focus being mass spectrometry, whereby the University of Birmingham has state-of-the-art facilities.

Although focussed primarily on photosynthesis, the PhD student will be integrated into a research environment whereby other researchers are utilising mass spectrometry to solve a variety of biological problems from drug discovery to cancer prevention and biomarker discovery. Options will be available to take on side projects in these areas throughout the PhD. Thus, after the PhD the researcher will have an excellent all-around knowledge in structural biology and have the ability to apply mass spectrometry to solve biological problems in any context, expanding their opportunities for future employment.

For more information and recent publications from the group, please refer to:


Structural mass spectrometry, liquid chromatography, SDS PAGE, fluorescence and UV-vis spectroscopy, protein purification, use of various bioinformatics tools. X-ray crystallography and cryoEM maybe used dependant on how the project progresses