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Award details

BBSRC SWBio DTP PhD studentship 2024 Entry - Harnessing the power of synthetic biology to engineer novel lytic bacteriophages, PhD in Biological Sciences Ref: 4933

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Tobias Bergmiller, Unversity of Exeter

Additional Supervisors

Dr Thomas Gorochowski, University of Bristol

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

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The BBSRC-funded SWBio DTP involves a partnership of world-renown universities, research institutes and industry, based mainly across the South West and Wales.

This partnership has established international, national and regional scientific networks, and widely recognised research excellence and facilities.

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 associate partner).

• 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. 

First year
We provide a broad awareness of the fundamental research approaches in life sciences and how they could be applied to real-life situations through:

two rotation projects - both allied with but in different disciplinary areas related to the PhD project.
three taught units - training in Statistics, Bioinformatics, coding, experimental design, innovation and understanding the impact of your research.

Of note: You will need to successfully complete the first year to progress into your second year of studies.  Also, if you are unable to continue your PhD, an MRes exit route is available upon successful completion of the first year.  Further Information

Second to fourth years
The remaining years will be more like a conventional PhD, where you will focus on your PhD project.

• Of note: The PhD thesis must be submitted within 4 years (full-time equivalent) of starting the programme)

To help broaden your career horizons, you will undertake
• a 3-month placement of your choice, outside of an academic research environment - examples include working within policy, science communication, industry and scientific publishing.
• or a 3-18 month industry placement with your CASE partner – CASE studentships only
These are to provide you with highly desirable skills, experience and knowledge that can be applied to many career sectors.

About our PIPS and CASE placement schemes >>

Cohort activities
You will have the opportunity to join many partnership cohort activities, such as student conferences, workshops and outreach events. Here you will meet students across the partnership, giving you access to a multidisciplinary and supportive student network.
About our cohort activities >>


Project Description

The ongoing antimicrobial resistance crisis that is going to leave mankind devoid of high-efficacy drugs against bacterial infections has led to a new renaissance of bacteriophage (phage) research. Phages are viruses that predate and kill bacteria. Their narrow-range specificity towards target bacteria, including the critical multi-drug resistant ESKAPE pathogens Acinetobacter baumannii and Klebsiella pneumoniae, makes them much thought-after future therapeutics. Their exceptionally high natural abundance creates a source of new phage variants to tackle emerging bacterial pathogens and phage “building blocks” that can be used to design functionally enhanced synthetic bacteriophages. We are interested in obligatory lytic phages that have very short life cycles, small genomes, and that destroy their bacterial hosts within minutes. They are commonly self-sufficient and self-dependent and likely to be effective across a broad number of hosts.

Our aim is to enhance their functionality using synthetic biology tools. Nevertheless, lytic phages are notoriously difficult to work with: genome engineering to construct synthetic phages, and technologies for “rebooting” lytic phages from their in-vitro assembled DNA genomes currently lacks sufficient speed and efficiency. While progress has been made using CRISPR-based genome engineering, phage engineering and rebooting are a serious bottle neck in the endeavour to use phage to tackle the AMR crisis, and more broadly in agriculture and the food industry.   

In this interdisciplinary PhD studentship, you will use a range of methods spanning molecular and bacterial genetics, synthetic biology and bioinformatics to devise new phage engineering and rebooting techniques. You will leverage the Exeter-based Citizen Phage Library ( and create an inventory of modularised phage parts. By using a combination of CRISPR technologies and other DNA “scissors” you will develop new avenues of phage rebooting and breeding, and a suite of novel synthetic bacteriophages that target Gram-negative ESKAPE pathogens.   

The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr. Tobias Bergmiller (University of Exeter), Dr. Thomas Gorochowski (University of Bristol) and Dr. Ben Temperton (University of Exeter). The supervisory team combines a range of complementary skills such as molecular and synthetic biology, bacterial genetics, bioinformatics and phage biology.

Funding Infomation

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover

•    a stipend* (at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £18.622 per annum for 2023-24)
•    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

Supporting Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)
We support inclusive and flexible work environments, and welcome applications from all backgrounds and communities.
Our SWBio DTP EDI statement 
How we support our diverse student cohort 

DTP virtual support events
We have events available to help support you with deciding on a bioscience PhD, applications and interviews.
Further information 

Positive action statement: Our aim as the SWBio DTP is to support students from a range of backgrounds and circumstances.  Where needed, we will work with you to take into consideration reasonable project adaptations (for example to support caring responsibilities, disabilities, other significant personal circumstances) as well as flexible working and part-time study requests, to enable greater access to a PhD.  All our supervisors support us with this aim, so please feel comfortable in discussing further with the listed PhD project supervisor to see what is feasible.


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 2024 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, 4 December 2023. Interviews will be held between 1st and 15th February 2024.

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:4th December 2023
Number of awards:1
Value:Tuition fees and an annual stipend allowance at Research Council rates, currently £18,622 per year for 2023-24
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Recruitment Office