PhD projects available in the Department of Biochemistry

A number of PhD positions are available in our internationally recognised research programmes. Students with a BSc (Hons) or other research degree and a strong academic record are invited to apply for PhD study in the broad fields of biochemistry and genetics. Successful candidates will be supported through the University of Otago Doctoral Scholarship scheme (NZ$25,000 tax-free stipend per annum, plus tuition fees, for 3 years). Please note that if your first language is not English you will need to provide evidence that you meet the university's English language requirement (see English language requirements).

Applications will be handled in two stages. In Stage 1, applicants are required to provide the following:

  • Curriculum vitae, including the names of two academic referees.
  • Academic transcript.
  •  Indication of up to three projects from the list below for which you want to be considered, ranked in order of preference.
  • A half- to one-page statement describing why you wish to study for a PhD in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Otago, and outlining your broad area of research interest.

Stage 1 applications must be submitted by email to Requests for further information should be directed to the same email address. In your cover letter.

The closing date for applications is 23 January, 2017.

In Stage 2, shortlisted candidates will be contacted by prospective supervisors, and if successful, invited to make a fully supported application for admission through formal University channels.

In addition to this process, from time to time individual supervisors also advertise on places like FindAPhd and Nature Jobs

Projects available:

  • Biochemistry and bioenergetics of photosynthesis
  • 14/06/2016
  • Photosystem II performs the light-driven splitting of water to provide the reducing equivalents necessary for incorporating carbon dioxide into sugars. Two projects are available to study the bioenergetics and assembly of this energy-transducing protein. Read more »
  • A genome-wide association study (GWAS) of copy number variation in gout using whole genome sequences.
  • 07/06/2016
  • Genome-wide association studies have greatly progressed understanding the genetic basis of disease over the past decade. These studies have typically used common single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on SNP chips. However they are unable to assess the contribution of complex copy number variation (CNV) to disease. This type of variation occurs when segments of genomic DNA from hundreds of base pairs to hundreds of kilobase pairs in length are deleted or duplicated in the human genome. However CNV can only be adequately genotyped by using read-depth approaches on whole genome sequences generated using high throughput approaches (such as Illumina). The aim of this project is to conduct a GWAS for CNV in gout using >3,000 whole genome sequences generated using an Illumina X10 facility. The project will require skills in bioinformatics, including a background in R code. Undergraduate experience in genetics and statistics would be beneficial, but not essential. Read more »
  • Membrane vesicles and unreduced male gametes in flowering plants
  • 14/06/2016
  • Plant breeders rely on unreduced gametes to overcome reproductive barriers and generate novel varieties, but such gametes occur infrequently and are difficult to induce. We have previously identified a mechanism that leads to a high frequency of unreduced male gametes in the jason mutant in Arabidopsis (Brownfield et al., 2015, Nat Comms, 6:6492). This revealed that a band of organelles usually keeps two chromosome groups separated during the second meiotic division, and loss of this organelle band leads to unreduced gamete formation. Furthermore, endomembrane vesicles are likely to be important for the maintenance of the organelle band throughout the second division. Read more »
  • Single molecule studies of the Hsc70 molecular chaperone
  • 17/06/2016
  • Hsc70
    All cells possess molecular chaperones, the action of which can assist proteins in folding or target them for degradation. The molecular chaperone Hsc70 contributes to protein maturation, translocation and repair, and drives the functional cycle of other proteins, including auxilin and steroid hormone receptors. Interaction of Hsc70 with its substrates depends on a large ATP-dependent conformational change of Hsc70. We have designed fluorescent variants of this chaperone in which the conformational change is reported by changes in the intensity and wavelength of the fluorescence and used these variants to follow the conformation of single Hsc70 molecules. A doctoral student is sought to use this construct to extend this work characterising Hsc70 conformational change at the single molecule level. The successful candidate will have demonstrated an interest in at least one of: protein biochemistry, biophysics, or statistical analysis of single molecule data. Read more »
  • Lipoprotein genetics
  • 17/06/2016
  • Elevated levels of lipoprotein(a) [Lp(a)] are a major independent risk factor for premature cardiovascular disease (CVD). Lp(a) levels are hugely influenced by the LPA gene, however, the gene is largely uncharacterised due to its highly repeatitive nature. This project aims to use new sequencing technology to gain sequence data for the repeatitive region of LPA to identify SNPs in this region associated with either elevated (or low) Lp(a) levels in a local population. Read more »
  • Understanding antibiotic resistance and survival of Pseudomonas aeruginosa during infection
  • 20/06/2016
  • The ever-increasing occurrence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a major threat to human health and has the potential to make infectious diseases untreatable. Pseudomonas aeruginosa infects the lungs of patients with the common genetic disease cystic fibrosis, very markedly reducing both the life expectancy and quality of life of patients. Extended exposure to antibiotics results in the occurrence of strains of the bacteria that have much higher resistance than their ancestral forefathers that initially infected the patients and “superbugs” of this species that are resistant to all current antibiotics are becoming increasingly common. The genetic events that result in adaptation of P. aeruginosa to the lung environment and to multi-drug resistant bacteria are only partially understood. Read more »
  • Regulation of ubiquitiylation by RING E3 ligases
  • 20/06/2016
  • Protein ubiquitylation is an important post-translational modification that has a critical role in regulating the life and death of cells. Ubiquitin transfer may rival phosphorylation in its importance, and it is important to unravel the molecular details of how ubiquitin is added to substrates. The focus of my laboratory is to understand the molecular processes that promote attachment of ubiquitin to proteins (ubiquitylation) and to uncover how other protein-protein interactions influence this process. Of particular interest to us is how multi-domain RING E3 ligases, of which there are several hundred in humans, specify substrates and regulate ubiquitin transfer. In this project, RING domain-containing proteins of interest as well as substrate proteins will be produced in E. coli, purified and characterized using biochemical and biophysical approaches, including elucidation of structures using x-ray crystallography. The aim of this project is to understand how ubiquitin transfer is regulated at the molecular level. The position offers opportunities to start a career in an important and topical area of biological research. Read more »