Faculty of Biological Sciences

Projects for funded students

There are a number of projects available for self-funded students.

Biology

Project Supervisor Bench fees per year (if applicable)
Ecological remediation of urban ponds: an empirical approach
Urban ponds have the potential to provide a wide range of ecosystem services: cooling, water treatment, biodiversity, and floodwater management. However, they are often degraded by human activity. This project will take an experimental approach to developing a guide to urban pond management that maximises multiple ecosystem services.
Dr Chris Hassall £1,500
Evolutionary games and the evolution of mimicry
This project would suit a computer science graduate with an interest in evolutionary biology. The project would involve the design and implementation of simulations and interactive games using genetic algorithms to develop mimetic phenotypes. Games could involve humans or animals, and might explore issues such as motion of prey, multimodal mimicry, or prey profitability.
Dr Chris Hassall £1,000
The ecology of aquatic microclimates
Most animals experience climate at a scale of cm to m, but climate data tends to be recorded and used at scales of km. This project will explore the contribution of small-scale variation in aquatic temperatures to biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and species distributions.
Dr Chris Hassall

£2,000

Effects of species richness on niche and neutral properties of communities
Ecological theory is divided between niche-based and neutral approaches; these are extremes of a continuum, and there is some evidence suggesting that their relative importance may depend on the size of a local species pool.  To test these ideas, we could examine natural communities differing greatly in species richness (e.g. paired mainland/island communities).  In addition, potential modelling or experimental approaches might be explored.
Prof. Bill Kunin TBC
Elucidation of ALADIN protein functions 
The nuclear pore complex (NPC) is a major route for the transport between the nucleus and the cytosol. The NPC scaffold proteins (nucleoporins) not only provide the stable structure of the nuclear pore complex but they also facilitate protein-protein interactions. This project seeks to identify the functions of the Arabidopsis thaliana homologue of the human nucleoporin called Alacrima Achalasia aDrenal Insufficiency Neurologic disorder (ALADIN), which is a WD repeat protein that may or facilitate interactions between the NPC and transport complexes. The aim of this project is to produce and characterise transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana plants that either over-express ADADIN or are lacking this protein.
Prof. Christine Foyer TBC
How soil nitrogen availability alters plant responses and resistance to aphids
Phloem feeding insects such as aphids are major pests in agriculture and in gardens worldwide. Previous work undertaken in our laboratory has shown that barley plants grown under conditions of low soil nitrogen availability are more resistant to aphids. In this project the molecular, metabolic and physiological mechanisms by which low nitrogen-dependent growth confers enhanced aphid resistance will be investigated. In particular, the effects of low nitrogen on leaf protein turnover catalyzed by cysteine proteases will be determined in wild type and transgenic wheat lines that constitutively express the rice cysteine protease inhibitor, oryzacystatin I (OCI). Theobjectives of this project are (1) to determine how low growth nitrogen affects fecundity in the two aphid species, the cereal specialist Sito bionavenae and the generalist feeder Myzus persicae, in wheat and barley, (2) to characterize the growth and development of the OCI-expressing lines under optimal and low nitrogen nutrient regimes, and (3) to define how low nitrogen alters plant defences against aphids.
Prof. Christine Foyer TBC

Biomedical Sciences

Project Supervisor Bench fees per year (if applicable)
Structural insights into ligand binding and channel activation in ATP-gated P2X7 receptor
P2X7 receptor, belonging to the ATP-gated ion channel P2X receptor family, exhibits distinct functional and pharmacological properties that are crucial for its role in innate immunity.  This project is part of the ongoing research collaborated with Prof C Fishwick and Dr S Muench, using structural modelling, ligand docking, EM imaging, electrophysiology, site-directed mutagenesis to elucidate the structural basis that governs ligand binding, channel gating and pore formation in human P2X7 receptor
Dr Lin-Hua Jiang £8,000
TRPM2 mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases
TRPM2 channels are oxidative stress-activated cationic channels. Our ongoing studies show that TRPM2 channel mediates neuronal death induced by peptides and proteins that induces oxidative stress and are causatively associated with neurodegenerative diseases, via neuron intrinsic mechanisms and also via indirect mechanisms as a result of microglia-mediated inflammation. This PhD project applies multidisciplinary approaches, including single cell imaging, electrophysiology, molecular and cell biology, transgenic mice, cell and animal models of diseases to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying TRPM2-mediated neurodegeneration.   
Dr Lin-Hua Jiang £12,000
Role of TRP channels in human disease
TRP ion channels play important roles in various diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular and neuronal (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s) diseases and cancer. The broad aim of the programme is to understand how these channels contribute to the disease state(s) and how they can be targeted to develop novel treatments. Cell biological, molecular, in vivo and pharmacological approaches will be used.
Prof Asipu Sivaprasadarao

£10,000

Neurotransmitter receptor mediated modulation of spinal cord neural stem cells
The ependymal cell layer of the spinal cord has recently been identified as an important stem cell niche. Manipulation of stem cell division and production could provide therapeutic benefits in conditions that lead to spinal cord dysfunction such as motor neurone diseases, multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury. However, little is known about the regulation of spinal neural stem cells. This project will investigate how internal signalling in the spinal cord (such as that via neurotransmitters GABA, acetylcholine or serotonin) can influence spinal stem cells.  
Prof Jim Deuchars

Dr Susan Deuchars
£10,000 - £12,000

The effect of acute exercise on novel word and skill learning 
This project will investigate the effect that exercise has on the consolidation of new words and movement skills in healthy young and older adults. 
Dr. Sarah Astill TBC
Combining non-invasive brain stimulation (nibs) and mirror therapy to reduce pain and improve motor function after spinal cord injury
Using multiple methodologies this project will aim to optimise the combination of nibs and mirror therapy to reduce neuropathic pain and improve arm and hand function after cervical spinal cord injury
Dr. Sarah Astill £2,000

Molecular and Cellular Biology

Project Supervisor Bench fees per year (if applicable)
RNA-replication elements involved in Dengue or Chikungunya virus replication.
There is no vaccine or specific antiviral therapy for Dengue or Chikungunya virus, consequently there is pressing need to understand more about how the viruses replicate and to develop novel antiviral drug targets. Using a wide variety of cutting edge molecular virology, structural biology and tissue culture techniques these projects will investigate how essential RNA structures in the virus genomes function and interact with host/viral proteins or non-coding RNA and will explore their potential as antiviral therapeutic targets. 

Dr Andrew Tuplin £7,000 - £12,000
Modulating molecular switches in cancer signalling
The Ras superfamily of proteins are important molecular switches involved in normal and pathological conditions. Our group has recently developed reagents capable of probing the function of these molecular switches and now aim to further develop these methodologies to study cancer signalling.  
Dr Darren Tomlinson £10,000 - £15,000
Healthy organismal aging: Identification and mechanistic characterization of modifiers of transcellular stress signaling
Stress and aging challenge the health of the proteome and increase susceptibility to protein conformational diseases, a hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases. New research using multicellular model organisms shows that protein quality control mechanisms are regulated by transcellular stress signalling between different tissues and organs of an animal to ensure organismal homeostasis. This project is aimed to mechanistically unravel mediators of transcellular signaling that communicate proteotoxic stress conditions between specific tissues. The lab utilizes C. elegans, a well-established model organism for aging and age-onset protein conformational diseases, combined with genetic screens and next generation sequencing.
Dr Patricija van Oosten-Hawle

Investigating novel protein-protein interactions and signalling pathways in ovarian and lung cancer
This will be both a basic and translational project where cell lines, animal models and patient tissue microarrays will be utilized.  The clinical relevance of the identified binding events will be tested in order to select for cancer biomarkers.
  
Dr Zahra Timsah £5,000 - £10,000
Understanding foot-and-mouth disease virus replication
Domesticated animals in the UK (cattle, sheep, goats and pigs) are at risk from foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV), a highly contagious virus, endemic in many parts of the world. The proposed research will give novel insight into features of the FMDV genome that allow rapid replication. We will use this information to improve the effectiveness and safety of future vaccines.
Prof. Nicola Stonehouse £10,000-£15,000
Towards generation of virus-free vaccines
Virus-like particles (VLPs) represent ideal vaccines, as are safe to use and cheap to produce. However, for picornaviruses such as poliovirus and EV71, the production of VLPs is challenging because the processing of capsid proteins that is normally associated with RNA encapsidation and particle stability does not occur. This project will employ a combination of selection and structure-guided design to generate VLPs that are stable and maintain wild-type antigenicity.
Prof. Nicola Stonehouse £10,000-£15,000
Towards RNA-based therapeutics by targeting proteins with RNA aptamers
Aptamers are oligonucleotides, produced by the iterative process SELEX, that fold into complex structures and bind target molecules in a conformation-dependent manner. RNA aptamers can be delivered to live cells and are non-immunogenic. The project will investigate methods to deliver potentially-therapeutic aptamer molecules into tissue samples.
Prof. Nicola Stonehouse £10,000-£15,000

 Pharmacology

Project Supervisor Bench fees per year (if applicable)
Molecular pharmacology of the GLP-1 receptor, a validated drug target for type 2 diabetes.
Glucagon-like peptide-1 (7-36)amide (GLP-1) plays a central role in regulating blood sugar levels and its receptor, GLP-1R, is a target for anti-diabetic agents such as the peptide agonist drugs exenatide and liraglutide. Using site-directed mutagenesis and molecular modelling, we are starting to understand of how peptides bind to and activate this receptor. We would like to understand this further and the project would be tailored to achieve this goal.

Dr. Dan Donnelly £6,000
Molecular pharmacology of the GLP-1 receptor, a validated drug target for type 2 diabetes.
Glucagon-like peptide-1 (7-36)amide (GLP-1) plays a central role in regulating blood sugar levels and its receptor, GLP-1R, is a target for anti-diabetic agents such as the peptide agonist drugs exenatide and liraglutide. Using site-directed mutagenesis and molecular modelling, we are starting to understand of how peptides bind to and activate this receptor. We would like to understand this further and the project would be tailored to achieve this goal.
Dr. Dan Donnelly £6,000