Project code



School of Biological Sciences

Start dates

October 2023

Closing date

6 April 2023

Applications are invited for a fully-funded 3.5 year PhD to commence in October 2023.

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Science and Health, and will be supervised by Professor Andy Pickford, Dr Bruce Lichtenstein and Dr Farah El Mohtadi

The successful candidate will be part of a new and innovative cluster of PhD students, dedicated to finding solutions to the global plastic crisis. Working as part of the cohort  you will explore the complex problem of marine pollution from plastic packaging and be expected to contribute to updates that demonstrate its impact. This interdisciplinary research programme is being supported by UK based material technologies company Aquapak, aiming to harness individual and collective discoveries to build new knowledge and deliver actionable strategies that can be taken to solve a growing problem.

Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees for 3.5 years and a stipend in line with the UKRI rate (£17,668 for 2022/23). 

The work on this project could involve:


  • The design, production and purification of thermostable nylon-degrading enzymes, using bacteria or yeast as a heterologous host.
  • The development and application of robust biochemical assays for the measurement of enzymatic nylon hydrolysis.
  • Assessing and optimising the performance of engineered enzymes in digesting pretreated nylon in bioreactors under industrial-like conditions.

Novel means of recycling end-of-life polymers are required if we are to convert the current, linear plastics economy into a circular one with a reduced reliance on fossil-based feedstocks. Natural polymers are commonplace in all kingdoms of life, and for every natural polymer, there exists a natural enzyme that can deconstruct it back into its constituent building blocks. These depolymerase enzymes give circularity to life; the building blocks are reused with nothing going to waste.

In recent years, significant progress has been made in the discovery and engineering of enzymes for the depolymerisation of polyesters. However, the advancement of enzyme-based solutions for other polymers, such as the polyamide nylon, has lagged behind. Therefore, this project aims to engineer enhanced activity, thermostability and durability into enzymes that have, to date, shown limited nylon-degrading activity. Furthermore, it will explore the application of these enzymes against mechanically- and/or chemically-pretreated nylon substrates. The project builds upon our recent, world-leading research into the structure, stability and function of polyester-degrading enzymes, and will further develop enzyme-based technology for the circular recycling of waste polymers.

This PhD studentship opportunity would particularly suit someone with a background in biochemistry, biotechnology, biophysics or organic chemistry. All necessary training will be provided, including in enzyme design and engineering, microbial fermentation, chromatography, solid-phase peptide synthesis, biocalorimetry, polymer analysis, and polymer depolymerisation in bioreactors. The supervisory team will be led by Prof Andy Pickford, Director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation (CEI), with additional support from Dr Bruce Lichtenstein and Dr Farah El Mohtadi. The CEI combines state-of-the-art facilities and world-leading expertise to not only drive forward scientific breakthroughs, but also provide the capacity and capability for translating that new knowledge into real-world solutions. For more information about the supervisory team and our science, please visit the CEI webpage.

Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

This studentship opportunity would particularly suit someone with a background in biochemistry, biotechnology, biophysics or organic chemistry.


How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Professor Andy Pickford ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.  Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code BIOL8200423 when applying.