Understanding the rules of life

Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

Category: Standard Studentships

Targeted surface modification with de novo designed enzymes

Project No. 2441


Primary Supervisor

Dr Bruce R. Lichtenstein – University of Portsmouth


Prof Andrea E. Russell – University of Southampton

Prof Ross Anderson – University of Bristol

Prof Andy Pickford – University of Portsmouth


The widespread use of plastic products poses a threat to ecosystems and human health, as these materials resist degradation and readily accumulate in the environment and food chains.

Recent breakthroughs in protein engineering have capitalized on fortunate similarities between unnatural polyesters found in plastics and the waxy coatings on plants, which are naturally processed by enzymes. However, most plastics lack such analogues, and naturally occurring enzymes are ill-equipped to address them. What we urgently require are robust, oxidative bio-catalytic methods to modify and break down synthetic polymers lacking natural degraders.

Our project aims to engineer novel enzymes specifically designed to target the commonly used polyolefin plastics using de novo design. Constructing enzymes from scratch will offer unique advantages for this endeavour, such as extraordinary durability, as well as kinetic and thermodynamic stabilities unmatched by natural proteins. The knowledge gained in this pursuit will have wide-ranging applications, from creating industrial-grade high-potential redox enzymes for plastic recycling to developing sustainable biochemical techniques for crafting surface-modified smart materials.

In this project, the student will collaborate within a multidisciplinary team dedicated to engineering de novo designed proteins, uncovering the fundamental principles governing their functionality, and constructing protein-based bioelectronics. The student will benefit from immediate access to a diverse team with expertise beyond the core supervision.

This opportunity is ideal for a candidate with a background in biochemistry, chemistry, or related fields and experience in protein expression. It offers a unique chance to learn the intricacies of protein engineering using both computational and experimental approaches