Understanding the link between the axilla microbiome bacteria and odorous thioalcohol generation at the molecular level


It is widely accepted that axillary malodour is driven by volatile fatty acids (VFAs), thioalcohols and steroids, which are by-products of the microbial biotransformation of odourless precursor molecules originating from the apocrine gland. Due to volatility and size, the molecules of interest can be challenging to sample and analyse, leading to loss of valuable information. The ability to measure volatile molecules originating from skin will allow for associations to be made between malodourous thiols and specific species within the microbial consortia within the armpit thus identifying which bacteria are thiol(s) producing.

This project addresses this unmet need, and the main aim is to develop surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) for the detection and quantification of thiols. In parallel, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) will be profiled using thermal desorption-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (TD-GC-MS), and the axilla microbiome examined using established phylogenetic approaches. 

This is a highly multidisciplinary project, with a supervisory team from the Centres of Metabolomics Research (CMR) and Genomic Research (CGR) in the University of Liverpool, with Unilever’s R&D division in Port Sunlight:

·        Roy Goodacre (CMR) will supervise the SERS and VOC metabolome aspects of the project.

·        Steve Paterson (CGR) will supervise the genetic methods (e.g., 16S rDNA) used to define the axilla microbiome.

·        Jane Ford and Allen Millichope (Unilever) will supervise the biological aspects and the interpretation of the links between specific microbial species in the axilla and malodour.

By exploring the relationship between the bacteria produced within the axilla and thioalcohol generation via both new analytical approaches and well-established microbiome analysis this PhD project will aim to develop an in depth understanding of the axilla microbiome and quantify the key drivers of malodour.

Qualifications and Experience

You should have, or expect to a 2i or above in Biochemistry, Chemistry or a related field.

To apply please send CV and a cover letter to  .

For application enquires please contact Roy Goodacre on 


Open to UK applicants

Funding information

Funded studentship

This is a BBSRC CASE PhD studentship between University of Liverpool and Unilever.  Funding includes the stipend at usual rate as well as bench fees and consumables.  As per UKRI rules for an Oct 2021 start this is only eligible to Home (UK) applicants.



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