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Award details

How biofilms protect themselves against bacteriophage infection and how they fail. BBSRC SWBio DTP PhD studentship 2023 Entry. PhD in Biosciences Ref: 4573

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Wolfram Moebius, Living Systems Institute, University of Exeter, Streatham Campus

Additional Supervisors

Dr Maisem Laabei, Department of Life Sciences, University of Bath.

Location:  Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon.

The BBSRC-funded South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP) involves a partnership of world-renown universities, research institutes and industry across the South West and Wales.

This partnership represents a distinctive group of bioscientists, with established international, national and regional networks, and widely recognised research excellence.

We aim to provide students with outstanding interdisciplinary research training within the following themes, underpinned by transformative technologies:

These are growth areas of the biosciences and for which there will be considerable future demand.

The award:

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP)

Programme Overview

You will be recruited to a broad, interdisciplinary project, supported by a multidisciplinary supervisory team, with many cross-institutional projects available. There are also opportunities to:

• apply your research in an industrial setting (DTP CASE studentships).
• undertake research jointly with our core and associate partners (Standard DTP studentships with an   
• work with other national/international researchers.
• undertake fieldwork.

Our structured training programme will ensure you are well equipped as a bioscience researcher, supporting careers into academia, industry and beyond. 

Project Description

The antibiotic resistance crisis leads to an increased interest in the use of bacteriophage, viruses of bacteria, to prevent and clear infections. But many bacteria live in biofilms, spatially extended structures of bacterial cells and extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). Although at first glance, such a dense population of cells should be particularly amenable to degradation by phages, life in the biofilm provides protection against bacteriophage predation.

To develop targeted phage cocktails to prevent and clear biofilms, we need a better understanding of how biofilms are protected against phages and how this protection fails: Is the EPS too dense for phage to disperse? Is there an ideal number of adsorption sites for phage? Once a phage infection starts within a biofilm, is it contained or does it spread locally? To answer these questions you will perform a combination of simulations and experiments that draw from microbiology and biological physics.

Early experiments, e.g., measuring how deeply phage T7 penetrates into a biofilm of E. coli, will allow you to build and parametrise a model of phage entering biofilms and infecting cells. The model then will make predictions about changes that occur when modifying the biofilm, which again can be tested experimentally again using E. coli and phage T7, but also S. aureus and phage K. Together, this will provide us with a quantitative understanding of how biofilms are protected against phages and which levers can be pulled to overcome this protection.

You will join a supervisory team and research groups in Exeter and Bath which are dedicated to combining traditional microbiology techniques with state of the art imaging as well as model building and simulations. The lead supervisor, Dr. Wolfram Möbius (Exeter) has a theoretical background and experience at the bench with bacteriophage T7, focusing with you on model development and simulations. The second supervisor, Dr. Maisem Laabei (Bath), is an expert in S. aureus and imaging and will guide your experimental work.

Additional supervisors/collaborators in Bath, Exeter, and Newcastle provide additional input on electron microscopy, biofilm simulations, phage cocktails and multispecies biofilms as applicable throughout the project. This ambitious project at the interface of microbiology and biophysics will provide you with a wide set of skills sought after in life science research and promises to increase our understanding of how to control biofilms.

Funding Infomation

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover

•    a stipend* (at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £17.668 per annum for 2022-23)
•    research and training costs
•    tuition fees (at the standard Research Councils UK rate)
•    additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship

*An enhanced stipend is available for students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£24,789 per annum for 2022-2023). There may also be enhanced stipends associated with projects that have a CASE partner (CASE projects are highlighted as *CASE in the project lists).

Part Time and Flexible Study Options

Part time study options maybe available please discuss with the supervisor. For further information please see -

Due to complexities and restrictions associated with visas for part-time studies, we are currently unable to accept part-time international students to the programme.


To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet both the academic (see entry requirements) and residence criteria.

Residence Criteria

Important:  Residency requirements are complex and too detailed to capture in full below.  Please read the below alongside guidance provided on the GOV.UK website and UKCISA website to ensure you meet the criteria.

For full details of residence requirements please see

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The SWBio DTP supports diverse and inclusive work environments. We therefore welcome applications from individuals regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, gender, or disability status.

The SWBio DTP is committed to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) principles throughout all of our processes, from application through to completion of the PhD programme, via our students, supervisors and DTP governance groups.

For further information on the support available please visit

Entry requirements

Academic Criteria

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.  Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Masters degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

In addition, due to the strong mathematical component of the taught course in the first year and the quantitative emphasis in our projects, quantitative/mathematical experience is needed.  This can be demonstrated through one or more of the following:

  • Undertaking units as part of your degree that have a significant quantitative/mathematical component*
  • Maths or Physics A-level (grade B and above)

*Significant mathematical component examples include; maths, statistics, bioinformatics.

Applicants must ensure they highlight their quantitative/mathematical background within their application and to upload any supporting evidence.

To support accessibility to PhD training opportunities, these studentships are only available to applicants that have not previously obtained or about to obtain a PhD degree (or equivalent).

Language Requirements

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.5 in any section by the start of the project.  Further information about these English requirements, please see

We ask that the language requirements are met by 1st June 2023 at the latest, to allow adequate time to obtain any necessary documentation to allow you to study in the UK.  For further information about documentation required please visit

How to apply

Please be aware you will be asked to upload the following documents:

  • CV
  • Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.  Please indicate your preferred project choice if applying for multiple BBSRC SWBio DTP projects.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • Two academic referees - see information below about references.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English (see entry requirements above)

The closing date for applications is midnight on Monday, 5 December 2022. Interviews will be held between 1st and 15th February 2023.

Reference Information

You will be asked to submit two references as part of the application process.  If you are not able to upload  your reference documents with your application please ensure you provide details of your referees.  If you provide contact details of referees only, we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email

Project-specific queries should be directed to the primary supervisor.

Selection Process:

Please note, the studentship selection process will take place in two stages:

1.     The project supervisors will consider your application and may invite you to visit for an informal interview. You can apply for more than one BBSRC SWBio DTP project, although supervisors may take into account your interest and commitment to their particular project.  If you apply for multiple projects, please indicate your preferred project choice in your letter of application.  Each application for an individual project will be considered separately by the project supervisors.

2.     After closure of applications, each supervisory team will then nominate their preferred applicant.  A shortlist will be selected from these nominations and shortlisted applicants will be invited for interview on a selection day at the University of Bristol.  Please note that nomination by a project supervisor therefore does not guarantee the award of a studentship.

For further information please go to -

Data Protection

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  •     the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme,
        which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  •    administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.


Application deadline:5th December 2022
Value:Tuition fees and an annual stipend allowance at Research Council rates, currently £17,668 per year for 2022-23
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Recruitment Office