Biological Sciences (Functional and Comparative Genomics) MPhil/PhD

Major code: BIMR/BIPR

About us

Institute of Integrative Biology

The Institute is managed in thre departments: Biochemistry; Functional and Comparative Genomics; Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour.

  • Academic and research staff: 220
  • Postgraduate research students: 150

The Institute is managed in three departments: Biochemistry; Functional and Comparative Genomics; Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour.

Academic and research staff: 220
Postgraduate research students: 150
As an Institute devoted to Integrative Biology, we span the range of biosciences from the fine-scale resolution of biomolecular structure through the genome-wide analysis of cells and organisms, to the evolution and ecology of organisms in their natural environment.

Underpinning this diversity, we offer World class facilities and infrastructure for research, and superb links to internationally excellent partners in both the academic and industrial sectors.

Our research seeks to answer fundamental questions, and to address key issues of contemporary concern. We were awarded a prize in the UK-wide BBSRC 2011 ‘Excellence with Impact’ competition, which commended the work of our graduate students in impact activities.

Our PhD completion rates are ranked amongst the highest in the UK by the Times Higher Education Supplement, one of only two Universities to have repeatedly ranked in the top four Institutions. Furthermore, our complementary training programme was awarded the highest grade in the QAA review of all HEI PGR training.

Our PhD programme is financed by substantial training grants from the main UK Government Research Councils, including the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council and The Medical Research Council , as well as charitable trusts, such as North West Cancer Research, overseas governments and industrial collaborators.

Staff research interests

Dr Heather Allison

Research is about being able to ask good questions, designing experiments to get interpretable answers and then telling the world about how things really work.

How long have you worked at the university? 

I’ve worked within the University since 1998, but I’ve been academic for the past 11 years.

Do you supervise any research students?

Yes, I currently supervise 4 Ph.D. students2nd year summer research students, honours project students and a variety of postgraduate students (M.Sc., M.Res., & Ph..D.) as well as postdoctoral researchers

What do you consider a postgradaute degree from your department has to offer and benefit a prospective student both within their academic discipline and outside? (For instance, what transferable skills are gained; what knowledge do you consider is applicable to other career paths)?

Research is about being able to ask good questions, designing experiments to get interpretable answers and then telling the world about how things really work.  I feel this is best done in an environment that fosters communication and collaboration with experts in the research lab and beyond.  I think we do that particularly well here, with lots of emphasis placed upon communication of research outcomes through verbal and written presentations.  Also, our presence within the Institute of Integrative Biology means that there are always experts, expertise and equipment to run any type of experiment in-house.

Please describe your research interests and any research projects you are involved with.

I am interested in studying the molecular mechanisms that control various aspects of microbial interactions with their environment. I am currently running a variety of projects that are ultimately focused on using molecular biology to better understand microbial behaviour and niches, but I predominantly focus on two main research areas. The first is understanding how lambdoid bacteriophages, specifically Shiga toxin encoding bacteriophages, interact with their bacterial host cells, e.g. host adsorption targets, virally encoded integrases, and viral genes that alter the host phenotype without being involved in the viral replication process. I have also developed and utilised a number of molecular tools to examine the distribution of these bacteriophages in the natural environment. The second line of research focuses on the use of metagenomic techniques (pyrosequencing and fosmid libraries) to identify and characterise novel cellulolytic microbial taxa and the cellulases they produce from land fill and fresh water environments.

Do you consider your research to be ‘making a difference’ (improving lives, shaping policy, or expanding the boundaries of our knowledge and changing perceptions)? 

I have two specific projects ongoing right now (both in collaboration with Prof. A.J. McCarthy) that I hope will make a significant impact. One project is centred on the factors that drive the emergence of toxigenic food borne pathogens, like E. coli O157.  The other focuses on the identification of novel enzymes that can break down cellulose to produce glucose, to enable to future production of biofuels from plant, not food, materials.

Who funds or contributes funding to your research – is it a particularly prestigious or renowned organisation or business? 

Most of my research funds have been secured from Research Councils (BBSRC, NERC, MRC) of government agencies (DEFRA), but I also have secured industrial sponsorship and currently have a BBSRC-CASE-funded studentship with Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition (part of Mars, Inc.)

Does pursuing your research involve travel to particularly interesting or prominent places? 

I have had the opportunity over my career to travel to many exciting places: San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore, Barcelona……it’s a perk of the job that I never expected when I began my scientific education.

What skills, qualifications and experience do your students usually have?

My Postgraduate students normally have a B.Sc. (2.1 or higher) in Microbiology, Molecular Biology or Genetics.

Is there an academic route that they’ve usually taken before they apply for your programme(s)?

No.  My students have had lots of different backgroundsSome of my recent Ph.D. students have come to me already possessing a Masters degree in Proteomics, Post Genomics Biology or Microbiology.

What have some of your students gone on to do? 

I feel quite proud to say that I have supervised the postgraduate students who have graduated (7, so far) are all currently employed in research positions.  Two of the students have secured academic posts at UK Universities, one within 1 year of graduating with a Ph.D.

What do you love most about the University of Liverpool? 

The people I work with, the students I supervise and teach……basically, I love my job (especially after my first cup of coffee in the morning).

Why should prospective students study a postgraduate qualification here?

It’s important for postgraduate students to find the “right fit” between themselves and their supervisor.  I’m biased, but I think that would be very easy to do here.