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Seeing photosynthesis at the nanoscale: mapping physical properties of light-harvesting biomembranes by high-resolution microscopy and spectroscopy


Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Ongoing deadline
Project start date
Friday 1 October 2021
Country eligibility
International (open to all nationalities, including the UK)
Competition funded
Dr Peter Adams and Dr George Heath
Additional supervisors
Stephen Evans
School of Physics and Astronomy
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

Understanding photosynthesis could provide valuable clues for future solar technology and help our understanding of food crops. Solar photons are absorbed by the biomembranes within chloroplasts, where large numbers of Light-Harvesting Complex (LHC) proteins act as a satellite dish for channelling energy to Photosystem (PS) proteins. However, we need a better understanding of the dynamic structure and biophysical properties of the system. We can map the protein structure and arrangement to nanoscale resolution using a technique called Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM). Recent developments in AFM also allow video-speed imaging and measurements of the protein dynamics at the millisecond to microsecond timescale. Fluorescence spectroscopy and microscopy (FM) then allows us to quantify the important optical properties and energy transfer processes which occur within these proteins.<br /> <br /> In this project, you will quantify the nanoscale structural dynamics 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.<br />

<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 research information section&nbsp;that the research degree you wish to be considered for is &ldquo;Seeing photosynthesis at the nanoscale: mapping physical properties of light-harvesting biomembranes by high-resolution microscopy and spectroscopy&rdquo; as well as <a href="">Dr Peter Adams</a>&nbsp;and <a href="">George Heath</a> as your proposed supervisor.</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><em>We welcome applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.</em></p>

<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><strong>Funding Eligibility</strong></p> <p><strong>UK&nbsp;students</strong>&nbsp;&ndash;&nbsp;The <a href="">Leeds Doctoral Scholarship (January deadline)</a> and the <a href="">Henry Ellison Scholarship</a> are available to UK applicants.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>International students</strong>&nbsp;&ndash; The <a href="">School of Physics &amp; Astronomy Fee Only Scholarship</a> is available to support the additional academic fees of international applicants. The <a href="">China Scholarship Council - University of Leeds Scholarship</a> is available to nationals of China. The <a href="">Leeds Marshall Scholarship</a> is available to support US citizens.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Self-funded students</strong> are also very welcome to apply.</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>