Exploring how complex glycans shape the human gut microbiota and its interaction with the host


The human gut microbiota is a vast community essential for human health. This community is mainly composed of bacteria and there are as many bacterial cells in our body as there are nucleated human cells. Gut microbiota provides energy, trains and regulates our immune system, and influences our activity through the emerging gut-brain axis.

Composition and diversity of gut microbiota is driven by nutrient availability controlled through the complex carbohydrates produced by the human host and ingested in the diet. Metabolism of these complex carbohydrates by gut bacteria produces short chain fatty acids which act as an energy source for the host, and targets immune cells to reduce inflammation. These short chain fatty acids are also found throughout the body, including in the brain, and consequently have been linked to neuroinflammation and Alzheimer’s disease. The way gut species metabolise complex carbohydrates underpins the effects gut bacteria have on human health. Correct metabolism drives a healthy gut microbiota and a healthy host, whilst improper metabolism can drive dysbiotic gut microbiota and lead to disease.

This project seeks to understand the molecular mechanisms by which gut bacteria metabolise complex carbohydrates and how this influences their interaction with the host. You will employ an integrated strategy of protein biochemistry, bacterial genetics, metabolomics, and tissue culture to uncover the fundamentals of these metabolic processes seeking how they can be exploited to maximise human health and treat diseases.

This interdisciplinary project will utilise our world-class facilities including proteomics (https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/pfg/), genetics (https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/genomic-research/) and imaging (https://cci.liv.ac.uk/). Furthermore, this multi-disciplinary training will give you a broad range of skills allowing a wide choice of career options, both within and outside of academia, after the PhD.

Informal enquiries can be made to Dr Alan Cartmell 

The project is suited to a student with at least a good B.Sc. Upper Second Class in Biological or Life Sciences. 



Open to EU/UK applicants

Funding information

Funded studentship

The project is open to UK students and UK residents as well as EU citizens with settled status and is fully funded for a period of 3 years at the UKRI rate stipend (currently £17,668). Applicants are encouraged to contact the Principal Supervisor directly to discuss their application and the project.