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Seeing photosynthesis at the nanoscale: mapping the properties of light-harvesting membranes by video-speed atomic force and fluorescence microscopy


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Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Ongoing deadline
Country eligibility
UK only
Source of funding
University of Leeds
Dr Peter Adams and Dr George Heath
Additional supervisors
Prof. Stephen Evans
School of Physics and Astronomy
Research groups/institutes
Molecular and Nanoscale Physics
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

Understanding photosynthesis could provide valuable clues for future solar technology and help our understanding of food crops. Photons of sunlight are absorbed by biomembranes found within chloroplasts, where large numbers of Light-Harvesting Complex (LHC) proteins act as a satellite dish for channelling energy to Photosystem (PS) proteins. The LHC and PS proteins contain chlorophyll and carotenoid pigments which act as the light-absorbing, energy-transferring cofactors. Much is known about the structure and function of main proteins within this system, however, we need a better understanding of the structural dynamics of each protein and the energy transfers processes taking place across the membrane system. We can map the protein structure and arrangement to nanoscale resolution using a technique called Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM). Recent developments in AFM allow video-speed imaging and measurements of the protein dynamics at the millisecond to microsecond timescale. Fluorescence microscopy (FM) can be used to locate these pigment-protein complexes and fluorescence spectroscopy can quantify the energy transfer processes which occur between pigments.<br /> <br /> In this project, you will quantify the nanoscale structural dynamics and energy transfer processes of these proteins using high speed AFM and fluorescence techniques. Firstly, you will study how the so-called supercomplexes of PS/LHC proteins can assemble and disassemble in real time with AFM and FM imaging. You will systematically assess the effect of membrane composition and the effect of temperature. This will reveal the interaction strength and remodelling capabilities of these critically important Photosystem clusters. Secondly, you will quantify the flexibility and rearrangement of single LHC proteins with a newly developed ultra-fast height spectroscopy mode of AFM. Here, you will assess the effect of pH, which is thought to trigger changes to these proteins. Finally, you will quantify energy transfer processes of different configurations of proteins using advanced fluorescence spectroscopy. Characterizing the structural arrangement and biophysical properties of these membrane proteins will greatly advance our understanding photosynthesis.

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p>Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the&nbsp;<a href="">University&#39;s website</a>. Please state clearly in the Planned Course of Study that you are applying for <em><strong>PHD Physics &amp; Astronomy FT</strong></em> and in the research information section&nbsp;that the research degree you wish to be considered for is <em><strong>Seeing photosynthesis at the nanoscale: mapping the properties of light-harvesting membranes by video-speed atomic force and fluorescence microscopy</strong></em>&nbsp;as well as&nbsp;<a href="">Dr Peter Adams</a>&nbsp;and <a href="">George Heath</a>&nbsp;as your proposed supervisors.</p> <p>If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (below).</p> <p style="margin-bottom:11px"><span style="font-size:11pt"><span style="line-height:107%"><span style="font-family:Calibri,sans-serif"><em><span style="font-size:15.0pt"><span style="background:white"><span style="line-height:107%"><span style="font-family:&quot;Arial&quot;,sans-serif"><span style="color:#4a4a4a">As an international research-intensive university, we welcome students from all walks of life and from across the world. We foster an inclusive environment where all can flourish and prosper, and we are proud of our strong commitment to student education. Across all Faculties we are dedicated to diversifying our community and we welcome the unique contributions that individuals can bring, and particularly encourage applications from, but not limited to Black, Asian, people who belong to a minority ethnic community, people who identify as LGBT+ and people with disabilities. Applicants will always be selected based on merit and ability.</span></span></span></span></span></em></span></span></span></p> <p class="MsoNoSpacing">Applications will be considered on an ongoing basis. &nbsp;Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the supervisors for an informal discussion before making a formal application. &nbsp;We also advise that you apply at the earliest opportunity as the application and selection process may close early, should we receive a sufficient number of applications or that a suitable candidate is appointed.</p> <p>Please note that you must provide the following documents in support of your application at the point you submit your application:</p> <ul> <li>Full Transcripts of all degree study or if in final year of study, full transcripts to date</li> <li>Personal Statement outlining your interest in the project</li> <li>CV</li> </ul>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

Applicants to research degree programmes should normally have at least a first class or an upper second class British Bachelors Honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate discipline. The criteria for entry for some research degrees may be higher, for example, several faculties, also require a Masters degree. Applicants are advised to check with the relevant School prior to making an application. Applicants who are uncertain about the requirements for a particular research degree are advised to contact the School or Graduate School prior to making an application.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid. Some schools and faculties have a higher requirement.

<h2 class="heading">Funding on offer</h2>

<p>A highly competitive School of Physics &amp; Astronomy Studentship consisting of the award of fees at the UK fee rate of &pound;4,600 with a maintenance grant of &pound;16,062 for session 2022/23 for 3.5 years.</p> <p>This opportunity is open to UK applicants only.&nbsp; All candidates will be placed into the School of Physics &amp; Astronomy Studentship Competition and selection is based on academic merit.<br /> <br /> Please refer to the UK&nbsp;<a href="">UKCISA</a>&nbsp;website for information regarding Fee Status for Non-UK Nationals starting from September/October 2022.</p> <p><br /> <br /> Please refer to the UK&nbsp;<a href="">UKCISA</a>&nbsp;website for information regarding Fee Status for Non-UK Nationals starting from September/October 2022.</p>

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p>For further information on the project do not hesitate to contact any of the project supervisors by email (Peter Adams <a href=""></a>&nbsp;and George Heath <a href=""></a>). We are always happy to discuss scientific questions with pro-active candidates. For details on how to apply and admin arrangements, please contact Doctoral College Admissions by email:&nbsp;<a href="">m</a><a href=""></a>, or by telephone: +44 (0)113 343 5057.</p>

<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked research areas</h3>