Discovering the post translational regulation of the algal CO2 concentrating mechanism

Supervisor:  Dr Luke Mackinder

Co-Supervisor:  Dr Gareth Evans

Project description:

Photosynthesis drives life on earth, providing the fuels we burn, the food we eat and regulating the atmosphere we live in. Eukaryotic algae are at the centre of global photosynthesis, responsible for approximately one-third of global carbon fixation, yet very little is known about how algae efficiently take up CO2 from their surrounding environment for fixation by Rubisco, the primary carbon fixing enzyme. Through a large-scale fluorescence protein tagging and protein-protein interaction study (Mackinder et al., 2017 Cell) we recently identified several protein candidates that are involved in the regulation of CO2 uptake in the model algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. These include protein kinases, 14-3-3 proteins and Rubisco binding proteins. We hypothesize that a subset of these candidates function to regulate the formation of the pyrenoid, a Rubisco packed organelle at the heart of algal CO2 fixation, by the post translational modification of Rubisco and/or the Rubisco linker EPYC1 (Mackinder et al., 2016 PNAS; Freeman Rosenzweig et al., 2017 Cell). In addition, we believe that a second subset are critical for the sensing and regulation of CO2 uptake at the plasma membrane and chloroplast envelope.

The successful candidate will explore the function of these candidate CO2 uptake regulation proteins. They will 1) characterise Chlamydomonas mutants lacking candidate proteins for defects in CO2 acquisition, and 2) perform detailed biochemical and functional characterisation of proteins with core roles in regulating CO2 uptake. The PhD candidate will use a wide range of molecular and cell physiology techniques/approaches, including PCR, cloning, protein purification, western blotting, confocal and electron microscopy, surface plasmon resonance, protein cross-linking mass spectrometry, kinase activity assays and phosphomimetics. We anticipate that data derived from this project will guide future synthetic engineering projects to enhance CO2 fixation in higher plants (Mackinder, 2017 New Phytologist).

The successful candidate will have the potential opportunity to work with and visit collaborators at Princeton University and the University of Edinburgh.

Please contact Luke Mackinder ( for further information.

We strongly encourage you to email the project supervisor prior to submitting an application to discuss your suitability for this project.  Please email:

Funding:  This studentship is fully funded for 3 years by the Department of Biology and covers: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£14,533 for 2017-2018, to be confirmed for 2018-2019), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate.

Start date: October 2018

Please read the 'How to apply' tab before submitting your application.

Applications are now closed

Interviews will be held on Monday 5 or Tuesday 6 February 2018 - TBC