How does the metabolism of host glycans shape microbiota interactions?


Complex carbohydrates are the primary nutrient source for the human gut microbiota (HGM), a vast microbial community essential to human health and physiology. Host glycans represent a constant source of complex carbohydrates and their metabolism exerts a continuous effect on both the host and the HGM. The metabolism of the sulfated glycans, such as the glycosaminoglycan (GAG) class of host glycans is conserved in Bacteroides, a bacterial species that are dominant members of the HGM, and generates a unique secondary metabolite (excreted small molecules) profile, enriched in short chain fatty acids, acetate and propionate, as well as the neurotransmitter -aminobutyric acid (GABA), all of which can modulate colonic epithelial cell (colonocytes, cells lining the intestine) behaviour, and potentially the host, through the emerging gut-brain axis; for example, in the model organism, C. elegans, gut bacteria produce a hormone that results in selection bias toward a particular food source and increases the fitness of both the host and gut bacteria. It has also been suggested that increased bacteroides species correlate with depression in humans, potentially through increases in the GABA neurotransmitter. Through studying the secondary metabolites produced from host GAG metabolism by the HGM, and the mechanisms which underpin it, we aim to begin to shed light on just how the HGM influences host physiology and behaviour. 


Applications should be made by emailing  with:

·        a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees);

·        a covering letter – clearly stating your first choice project, and optionally 2nd ranked project, as well as including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project(s) and at the selected University;

·        copies of your relevant undergraduate degree transcripts and certificates;

·        a copy of your IELTS or TOEFL English language certificate (where required);

·        a copy of your passport (photo page).

A GUIDE TO THE FORMAT REQUIRED FOR THE APPLICATION DOCUMENTS IS AVAILABLE AT Applications not meeting these criteria may be rejected.

In addition to the above items, please email a completed copy of the Additional Details Form (as a Word document) to . A blank copy of this form can be found at:

Informal enquiries may be made to 

The deadline for all applications is 12noon on Monday 9th January 2023.


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

Studentships are funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for 4 years. Funding will cover tuition fees at the UK rate only, a Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) and stipend. We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.



Sulfated host glycan recognition by carbohydrate sulfatases of the human gut microbiota
Nature chem bio 2022 PMID: 35710619
A single sulfatase is required to access colonic mucin by a gut bacterium
Nature 2021 PMID: 34616040
Mobility shift-based electrophoresis coupled with fluorescent detection enables real-time enzyme analysis if carbohydrate sulfatase activity.
Biochem J. 2021. PMID: 33480417
Insights into SusCD-mediated glycan import by a prominent gut symbiont.
Nat Commun. 2021 PMID: 32955177
The metabolism of multiple glycosaminoglycans by the human gut symbiont bacteroides thetaiotaomicron is orchestrated by a versatile core genetic locus.
Nature commun. 2020. PMID: 32005816.