Characterising and repurposing cyanobacterial CO2-fixing organelles for metabolic engineering


Compartmentalisation represents an effective strategy used by cells to enhance their activities. By creating physical barriers and compartments, cells sequester the metabolic pathways from the cellular milieu to allow controls of metabolic flux and toxic diffusion. Compartmentalisation is not only the hallmark feature of eukaryotic cells; in recent years, it has been increasingly seen in a range of prokaryotic lineages that are relevant to human health and the environment, giving rise to several types of bacterial organelles.

An intriguing example is the carboxysome, which significantly enhances photosynthetic carbon fixation in cyanobacteria. Carboxysomes are composed of hundreds of proteins that self-assemble, in a precise and regulatory manner, to form a highly-organised and functional architecture. These bacterial organelles offer great opportunities for bioengineering of metabolic modules using synthetic biology.

This project will use multidisciplinary approaches to study how carboxysomes are constructed in nature and how to engineer carboxysomes with new functions in other hosts using synthetic biology. Understanding the principles of carboxysome assembly is important for building new bio-nanoreactors and protein scaffolds in other organisms to enhance metabolism. It has the potential to revolutionise crop engineering, bioenergy production and therapeutic development.

Candidates should hold, or expect to hold, a first class or high II.1 degree in biochemistry, microbiology or equivalent, and have demonstrated strong motivation, intelligence, and abilities of self-management, and working in a laboratory environment. A master degree in a relevant area is desirable. Please send your CV and a cover letter with contact information of two referees to . More details are available by emailing Dr Liu.

Contact: Dr. Luning Liu, 


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Self-funded project

The PhD project will start in October 2019 for self-funded students from any nation. 



1. Fang Y, Huang F, Faulkner M, Jiang Q, Dykes GF, Yang M, Liu LN. Engineering and modulating functional cyanobacterial CO2-fixing organelles. Frontiers in Plant Science, 2018, 9: 739

2. Faulkner M, Rodriguez-Ramos J, Dykes GF, Owen SV, Casella S, Simpson DM, Beynon RJ, Liu LN. Direct characterization of the native structure and mechanics of cyanobacterial carboxysomes. Nanoscale, 2017, 9(30): 10662-10673

3. Sun Y, Casella S, Fang Y, Huang F, Faulkner M, Barrett S, Liu LN. Light modulates the biosynthesis and organization of cyanobacterial carbon fixation machinery through photosynthetic electron flow. Plant Physiology, 2016, 171(1): 530-541.