Dual-award between The University of Manchester and The University of Melbourne

The University of Manchester has existing, highly productive links with The University of Melbourne and is extending this relationship to our Global Doctoral Research Network (GOLDEN) by establishing another cohort of collaborative postgraduate research projects.

We are currently recruiting the fourth cohort of collaborative postgraduate researchers for fully funded studentships, now known as the Dr Isabel Clifton Cookson Scholarships.

About Dr Isabel Clifton Cookson

A pioneering Australian palaeobotanist, Dr Isabel Clifton Cookson (1893-1973) received her first-class honours in biology and zoology from the University of Melbourne. After graduating she received a government research scholarship to study flora in the Northern Territory, and then travelled to England to work alongside Professor Lang, a specialist in fossil plants at The University of Manchester.

During her 58-year career, Dr Cookson authored and co-authored 93 scientific publications. Her papers on fossil plants are said to have helped to shape theories of early plant evolution.

What is a dual-award programme?

This dual-award programme offers candidates the opportunity to apply for a project with a strong supervisory team both in Manchester and Melbourne. A dual-award is a PhD programme that leads to awards from two partner institutions, which recognise the contribution of the collaborating institution. PhD candidates will be registered at both Manchester and Melbourne and must complete all of the requirements of the PhD programme in both the home and partner university.

PhD candidates will begin their PhD in Manchester and will then spend at least 12 months in Melbourne. The amount of time spent at Manchester and Melbourne will be dependent upon the project and candidates will work with their supervisory team in the first year to set out the structure of the project.

PhD candidates on a dual-award programme can experience research at two quality institutions and applying for a dual-award programme will support you to develop a global perspective and will open the door to new job opportunities. Boost your intercultural skills and experience the opportunities studying in Melbourne and Manchester provide by applying to one of our available projects in the scheme

You can read about the existing projects on Melbourne’s website.

Funding

The University of Manchester has six studentships available and is now offering candidates the opportunity to apply to one of the projects below to start in September 2023. 

You will spend at least 12 months at each institution and will receive a dual PhD at the end of the 3.5 year programme.

Funding for the programme will include tuition fees, an annual stipend at the minimum Research Councils UK rate (TBC for 2023/24), a research training grant and student travel to Melbourne.  

How to apply

Available projects are listed below, the expected start date for candidates in Manchester based projects is September 2023.

Candidates will need to meet the minimum entry requirements of both Universities to be accepted and will be registered at both institutions for the duration of the programme. The entry criteria for the University of Melbourne can be found on their ‘How to Apply’ webpage.

Candidates looking to apply for a Manchester-based project are encouraged to contact the named Manchester supervisor for an initial discussion before submitting an official application form. 

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is fundamental to the success of the University of Manchester and is at the heart of all of our activities. We know that diversity strengthens our research community leading to enhanced research creativity, productivity and quality and increases our societal and economic impact.

We actively encourage applicants from diverse career paths and backgrounds and from all sections of the community regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.

The University of Manchester and our external partners are fully committed to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Deadlines

Deadline for Manchester based applications: 17 March 2023.

For further information about applying for one of the Manchester based projects can be found on our ‘how to apply’ page.

Available projects

You can browse our available projects below.

Publishing the Postcolonial 1960–present

This project will be based at The University of Manchester, with at least 12 months spent at the University of Melbourne.

Project description:

The term 'postcolonial', though sometimes contested, is still one that evokes the ongoing critique of divisive power structures and continues to reflects the work of a discipline that prioritizes the analysis of hierarchies and inequalities associated with the colony and empire. The category of the postcolonial is still very much relevant in our discussions of neocolonialism and neoliberalism, particularly in this era of globalisation and decolonisation. Nevertheless, debates on decolonising the curriculum, movements like Black Lives Matter, new descriptors like 'Global South' and 'Global North', Immanuel Wallerstein’s work on worldsystems theory, Walter Mignolo’s on decolonization, and the Warwick Research Collective, all present new geopolitical frameworks and structures that point beyond the centre-periphery initial model of postcolonialism: together they suggest that the title 'postcolonial' will never fully capture this diversity of approaches, though it continues to evolve in response to broader conceptual and material changes.

In this context, Publishing the Postcolonial (1960-present) aims to capture the role of postcolonial journals thus far, in particular the UK-based Journal of Postcolonial Writing (JPW) (formerly World Literatures Written in English), as well as the Australia-based journal Postcolonial Studies, in order to better understand the evolution and continued relevance of these publications to the development of postcolonial studies.

Specifically, this project seeks to investigate how JPW has responded to contemporary developments in the study of colonialism and decolonisation; how it has helped to shape and reflect the direction of postcolonial studies; how it has pushed the boundaries of the discipline and to what effect; how it has engaged with a variety of genres, in particular the visual arts; how it has provided timely visibility to under-presented literatures and geopolitical contexts; how it has explored themes such as precarity, diaspora and dislocation and new trends such as minority genres; eco-criticism; energy humanities; how it has contributed to the decolonising agenda; and the ways in which it has engaged the PGR community. The project also seeks to better understand the context within which the journal Postcolonial Studies was established in Melbourne, its history and remit and its current contribution to the development of the field in the Australian context.

This project seeks to better understand and trace the development of postcolonial studies through examining the publication history of journals that contributed to the establishment of the field in the UK and beyond. It also aims to trace the influence that journal publications have had on both reflecting and shaping arguments as well as contributing and creating a framework for an entire discipline.

Supervisory Team:

Apply:

An historical overview of postcolonial literary studies in Australia from 1970 to the present

This project will be based at the University of Melbourne, with at least 12 months spent at The University of Manchester.

Project description:

This project will be the first major study to research and document the changes that have occurred to postcolonial literary studies in Australia from its beginnings in the late 1970s to the present, and to show what features have distinguished it from postcolonial literary studies in the UK. The project will begin by establishing the connections that existed between the earliest postcolonial approaches to postcolonial writing and criticism in Australia and those that emerged in the UK, focusing particularly on the study of Commonwealth literature and criticism. As part of this, it will compare the first examples of postcolonial literature and criticism to appear on the syllabi of English departments in Australia with those that appeared on syllabi in the UK. It will also investigate the effects of the Indigenous Renaissance of the 1970s and Australia's focus on the Asia-Pacific in the 1990s on postcolonial writing and criticism in Australia.

The project will identify the key literary and literary critical works that in Australia set the tone for the most important debates in the field, starting with the applicability to settler colonial nations like Australia of theoretical concepts like Orientalism, hybridity, and ambivalence; and the ground-breaking books The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Postcolonial Literatures (1989) by Helen Tiffin, Gareth Griffiths and Bill Ashcroft, The Dark Side of the Dream (1991) by Bob Hodge and Vijay Mishra and extending to the critiques of postcolonial studies itself, Whiteness studies and the history wars. It will examine the effects on Australian postcolonial literary studies of works by Australian Aboriginal Writers Mudrooroo Narogin, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Sally Morgan and Ruby Langford in the 1990s and Alexis Wright, Tony Birch and Kim Scott, and other Australian Indigenous writers, in the 2000s.

In addition to identifying the literary and critical works that have been most instrumental in effecting change in Australia, the project will identify the journals that have most helped precipitate and consolidate transformation – a list that includes Australian Literary Studies, Postcolonial Studies and Settler Colonial Studies.

Finally, as part of its attempt to address the ongoing legacies of colonialism, including the growing gap between the Global North and South, the project will examine some of the collaborative links that have recently formed between Australian and UK scholars, many of which have been aimed at revitalising the field by engaging with non-western knowledge systems, eco-criticism, intersectional and other feminisms, environmentalism, animal studies, and minority writing, together with a range of other disciplines.

Supervisory Team:

Apply:

From Plantation Slavery to Imperial Labour: Exploiting Workers in Britain, India and Australia

This project will be based at The University of Manchester, with at least 12 months spent at the University of Melbourne.

Project description:

This PhD project will explore how economic thinking, colonial governance and business practice shifted to generate new forms of imperial labour in Britain and its empire between 1750 and 1850. This period saw the radical transformation of work in colonial and industrialising contexts. In particular, the PhD will focus on workers in Lancashire, Bengal and New South Wales. From the second half of the eighteenth century, imperial and economic conditions resulted in the exploitation of labour in these sites in ways that had not previously been common in Britain or its empire: child labour in Lancashire’s factories; the corporate exploitation of indigenous labour in Bengal; and convict transportation and assisted migration to New South Wales. However, too often these diffused but economically connected experiences of labour have been examined independently, undermining the opportunity to examine a broader, global perspective, and making it more difficult to assess the implications of these experiences when examining inequalities generated during this period of British imperialism. By combining them, this PhD will undertake an important comparative study of labour regimes in regions that were rapidly changing in light of their connection of Britain’s imperial and economic development, vitally drawing them together to identify and analyse how workers across the world were exploited by common (or not) conceptions of labour and economic activity. 

This PhD project will focus on the following questions:

  • How did labour practices change in response to economic and imperial change in Britain, India and Australia?
  • What impact did private business enterprise have on exploitative labour practices?
  • How did imperial labour regimes influence the Abolitionist movement, and how were they shaped in turn by abolition?
  • To what extent was Britain’s imperial system understood as a connected economic system, and how did this shape labour policy?
  • To what extent did labour practices in each location shape the others?
  • How did labour practices across Britain’s empire generate local and global inequalities, and how did these shape local economies?

The collaborative structure of this PhD programme offered by Manchester and Melbourne will allow the student to draw on the expertise and support of the academic community at both institutions, as well as being able to spend time in relevant archives in both the UK and Australia. The primary supervisor at Manchester, Dr Edmond Smith, is an expert in imperial and economic history, while the second supervisor at Melbourne, Prof Zoë Laidlaw, specialises in colonial regimes and imperial networks. Together, they will provide the student with a strong supervisory and training agenda designed to ensure the best possible outputs from this PhD programme.

The project will draw on business, government and family records relating to the organisation and exploitation of labour in Lancashire, Bengal and New South Wales. Specifically, the research will engage with extensive private archives in Manchester and the north-west of England, as well as East India Company and British state records in London, and early colonial, convict, and business records in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. 

Supervisory Team:

From Slavery to Settler Colonialism: Atlantic Capital and the Colonisation of the Port Phillip District

This project will be based at the University of Melbourne, with at least 12 months spent at The University of Manchester.

Project description:

This project explores how British merchants involved in transatlantic slavery helped establish the settler colonial state of Victoria. The 1833 Slavery Abolition Act signalled a momentous change for the enslaved and their former enslavers in Britain’s colonies in the West Indies, southern Africa and Mauritius, but its wider reverberations extended right across the British Empire in ways that are only now being scrutinised. Settler colonisers invaded south-eastern Australia’s Port Phillip District just after emancipation, precipitating a violent process of dispossession for the region’s Aboriginal peoples, while generating vast pastoral and mercantile fortunes for a rising colonial elite.

This project focuses on British merchant houses that re-oriented some of their activities from the Atlantic to Australia from the mid-1830s. It explores an important but little recognised connection between two dynamic and significant regional economies – the north-west of Britain and the Port Phillip District – to generate new models for understanding Britain’s imperial history and its Australian legacies.

The research questions driving this project are:

  • Who were the merchants and capitalists of north-west Britain who drew on experience, capital and personnel derived from the business of Atlantic slavery to invest in the Port Phillip District?
  • How, and why, did they do this?
  • What impact did their investment and involvement have on the development of the Port Phillip District, especially between 1835 and 1860?
  • How did these Australian ventures complement other business interests elsewhere in Britain’s Empire?
  • What legacies of Britain’s involvement in the business of slavery were transferred to the Port Phillip District?

The collaborative structure of the PhD programme offered by Melbourne and Manchester will allow the student to draw on the expertise and support of the academic community at each institution, and spend time in relevant archives in both Australia and the UK. The primary supervisor at Melbourne, Prof Zoë Laidlaw, specialises in colonial regimes and imperial networks, while the Manchester co-supervisor, Dr Edmond Smith, is expert in imperial and economic history. Together, they will provide the student with a supervisory and training agenda designed to ensure the best possible outputs from this PhD programme.

Like other work in this area (including that of both supervisors), the project will be informed by, and draw upon, the work of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership Project (LBS), which digitised records documenting the distribution of £20 million compensation to individual slave-owners for the loss of their enslaved property. It will also move well beyond this database to use archival records generated by colonial and imperial administrations, by businesses and families in the Port Phillip District, and mercantile enterprises based in Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. These records will allow the student to address how merchants and capitalists in Britain's growing urban centres were connected to the Port Phillip District’s emerging settler colonial conurbations in Melbourne and Geelong and their service of western Victoria’s rapidly expanding pastoral economy. The project gives the student, in consultation with the supervisors, scope to shape the questions and case studies to be explored.

Supervisory Team:

Apply:

From Plantation Slavery to Imperial Labour: Exploiting Workers in Britain, India and Australia

This project will be based at The University of Manchester, with at least 12 months spent at the University of Melbourne.

Project description:

This PhD project will explore how economic thinking, colonial governance and business practice shifted to generate new forms of imperial labour in Britain and its empire between 1750 and 1850. This period saw the radical transformation of work in colonial and industrialising contexts. In particular, the PhD will focus on workers in Lancashire, Bengal and New South Wales. From the second half of the eighteenth century, imperial and economic conditions resulted in the exploitation of labour in these sites in ways that had not previously been common in Britain or its empire: child labour in Lancashire’s factories; the corporate exploitation of indigenous labour in Bengal; and convict transportation and assisted migration to New South Wales. However, too often these diffuse but economically connected experiences of labour have been examined independently, undermining the opportunity to examine a broader, global perspective, and making it more difficult to assess the implications of these experiences when examining inequalities generated during this period of British imperialism. By combining them, this PhD will undertake an important comparative study of labour regimes in regions that were rapidly changing in light of their connection of Britain’s imperial and economic development, vitally drawing them together to identify and analyse how workers across the world were exploited by common (or not) conceptions of labour and economic activity.

This PhD project will focus on the following questions:

  • How did labour practices change in response to economic and imperial change in Britain, India and Australia?
  • What impact did private business enterprise have on exploitative labour practices?
  • How did imperial labour regimes influence the Abolitionist movement, and how were they shaped in turn by abolition?
  • To what extent was Britain’s imperial system understood as a connected economic system, and how did this shape labour policy?
  • To what extent did labour practices in each location shape the others?
  • How did labour practices across Britain’s empire generate local and global inequalities, and how did these shape local economies?

The collaborative structure of this PhD programme offered by Manchester and Melbourne will allow the student to draw on the expertise and support of the academic community at both institutions, as well as being able to spend time in relevant archives in both the UK and Australia. The primary supervisor at Manchester, Dr Edmond Smith, is an expert in imperial and economic history, while the second supervisor at Melbourne, Prof Zoë Laidlaw, specialises in colonial regimes and imperial networks. Together, they will provide the student with a strong supervisory and training agenda designed to ensure the best possible outputs from this PhD programme.

The project will draw on business, government and family records relating to the organisation and exploitation of labour in Lancashire, Bengal and New South Wales. Specifically, the research will engage with on extensive private archives in Manchester and the north-west of England, as well as East India Company and British state records in London, and early colonial, convict, and business records in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

Supervisory Team:

From Slavery to Settler Colonialism: Atlantic Capital and the Colonisation of the Port Phillip District

This project will be based at the University of Melbourne, with at least 12 months spent at The University of Manchester.

Project description:

This project explores how British merchants involved in transatlantic slavery helped establish the settler colonial state of Victoria. The 1833 Slavery Abolition Act signalled a momentous change for the enslaved and their former enslavers in Britain’s colonies in the West Indies, southern Africa and Mauritius, but its wider reverberations extended right across the British empire in ways that are only now being scrutinised. Settler colonisers invaded south-eastern Australia’s Port Phillip District just after emancipation, precipitating a violent process of dispossession for the region’s Aboriginal peoples, while generating vast pastoral and mercantile fortunes for a rising colonial elite. This project focuses on British merchant houses that re-oriented some of their activities from the Atlantic to Australia from the mid-1830s. It explores an important but little recognised connection between two dynamic and significant regional economies – the north-west of Britain and the Port Phillip District – to generate new models for understanding Britain’s imperial history and its Australian legacies.

The research questions driving this project are:

  • Who were the merchants and capitalists of north-west Britain who drew on experience, capital and personnel derived from the business of Atlantic slavery to invest in the Port Phillip District?
  • How, and why, did they do this?
  • What impact did their investment and involvement have on the development of the Port Phillip District, especially between 1835 and 1860?
  • How did these Australian ventures complement other business interests elsewhere in Britain’s Empire?
  • What legacies of Britain’s involvement in the business of slavery were transferred to the Port Phillip District?

The collaborative structure of the PhD programme offered by Melbourne and Manchester will allow the student to draw on the expertise and support of the academic community at each institution, and spend time in relevant archives in both Australia and the UK. The primary supervisor at Melbourne, Prof Zoë Laidlaw, specialises in colonial regimes and imperial networks, while the Manchester co-supervisor, Dr Edmond Smith, is expert in imperial and economic history. Together, they will provide the student with a supervisory and training agenda designed to ensure the best possible outputs from this PhD programme.

Like other work in this area (including that of both supervisors), the project will be informed by, and draw upon, the work of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership Project (LBS), which digitised records documenting the distribution of £20 million compensation to individual slave-owners for the loss of their enslaved property. It will also move well beyond this database to use archival records generated by colonial and imperial administrations, by businesses and families in the Port Phillip District, and mercantile enterprises based in Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. These records will allow the student to address how merchants and capitalists in Britain's growing urban centres were connected to the Port Phillip District’s emerging settler colonial conurbations in Melbourne and Geelong and their service of western Victoria’s rapidly expanding pastoral economy. The project gives the student, in consultation with the supervisors, scope to shape the questions and case studies to be explored.

Supervisory Team:

Apply:

Investigating inflammatory and neuronal mechanisms driving cognitive dysfunction in mild traumatic brain injury (concussion).

This project will be based at The University of Manchester, with at least 12 months spent at the University of Melbourne.

Project description:

Concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) affects millions world-wide each year due to motor accidents, falls, assaults, domestic violence, contact sports and war. It is now appreciated that a history of concussion increases the risk of developing long-term emotional and neurocognitive disorders. These include anxiety and depression, as well as neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Critically, we do not know the mechanisms behind long-term negative effects of mTBI on brain health.

Over the last decade there is a growing literature emerging on how glial cells (microglia and astrocytes) and neuronal populations interact to control normal function and to understand how neuroinflammatory changes may be involved in the progression of a range of neuropsy chiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, a number of which are characterised by cognitive deficits.

In normal brain cognition is highly dependent on a balance between excitation (firing of pyramidal glutamatergic neurons) and inhibition (synchronisation of firing by parvalbumin containing GABAergic interneurons (PVI)). Gamma band oscillations, generated by these PVIs are crucial for maintenance of normal cognition. These interneurons are fast spiking, fast firing, have a high energy demand and as such are particularly susceptible to changes in neuroinflammation and oxidative stress. These interactions in different brains regions of relevance to cognition (e.g. prefrontal cortex & dorsal hippocampus) are now under intense scrutiny as changes in inflammation appear to be key drivers of brain injury, mood disorders and neurodegenerative disease. Understanding these interactions and their relationship over time in validated preclinical models related to TBI will aid in the identification and testing of novel therapeutic (both pharmacological and non-pharmacological (e.g. exercise)) interventions.

In the current project, we will investigate the immune cell response to mTBI in a clinically relevant mouse model. Our overall aims are to:

  • Assess the influence mTBI on brain resident immune cells (microglia/astrocyte density and activation), brain tissue inflammation (multiplex cytokine array analysis) and neuronal populations (parvalbumin GABAergic interneurons and associated perineuronal nets)
  • Utilise transgenic models and cell-depletion strategies in the mild TBI model. (Complimentary studies will be conducted in the moderate TBI model in Melbourne).
  • Target immune and neuronal cell subtypes and functions in the brain to prevent / reverse neuronal and behavioural deficits in mice after mTBI.

Supervisory Team:

Targeting neuroinflammation to limit neuronal cell damage in traumatic brain injury.

This project will be based at the University of Melbourne, with at least 12 months spent at The University of Manchester.

Project description:

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) remains the leading cause of death and permanent disability in adolescents worldwide. More than 50 million people worldwide have a TBI each year, and it is estimated that about half the world’s population will have one or more TBIs over their lifetime. TBI has been estimated to cost the global economy approximately billion annually. Despite the improvement of neurosurgical procedures as well as critical care management, morbidity and mortality are still high and approximately 25% of these patients remain with permanent disabilities becoming a familiar, social and economic burden for society. A better understanding of events occurring in the brain after traumatic brain injury is essential to identify ways to limit the damage and ultimately improve the outcome. There are no viable treatments available to a clinician when caring for a patient after a TBI. It is clear that current thinking and programs have failed. Over the past decade, it has become clear that neuroinflammation is central to the brain’s response to trauma. TBI triggers acute neuroinflammation, which exacerbates the primary brain damage. In addition, cognitive deficits that follow TBI have been linked to neuroinflammation, suggesting that targeting this response may be beneficial in limiting both the acute and long-term damaging effects to the brain.

The overall aim of this proposal is to characterise the early neuroinflammatory events that are associated with alterations in neuronal populations and cognitive decline following traumatic brain injury. Specifically, this project will focus on the role that the type-I interferons play in modulating neuroinflammation by utilising state of the art genetic knock-out models and clinically relevant therapeutics to influence TBI outcome. The data generated by this project will not only be used to further understand the molecular pathways that are changed in the brain after TBI but to develop novel therapeutics to reduce the long-term debilitating effects of TBI.

These findings will significantly benefit TBI research but will also be of future interest to research into neurodegenerative diseases where chronic inflammation in the brain has long been suggested to contribute to neuronal cell death. By defining the neuroinflammatory and immunoregulatory processes, we will aid the development of anti-neuroinflammatory approaches that delay the onset or slow the progression of neural cell death and brain dysfunction following TBI.

Supervisory Team:

Apply:

Correlating brain and systemic inflammation with peripheral and central neurodegeneration in mice and humans

This project will be based at The University of Manchester, with at least 12 months spent at the University of Melbourne.

Project description:

Post-stroke dementia occurs in around 30% of stroke survivors, impacting significantly on quality of life and also causing a high burden of disease. There are no current effective treatments to prevent or slow the progression of post-stroke dementia and the underlying mechanisms remain unclear.

In experimental models and clinical studies of patients experiencing stroke, immune/inflammatory changes are observed immediately after the event, both in the brain and in the blood. These changes have been proposed as a therapeutic target. There is evidence of long term immune/inflammatory changes post-stroke, which have been suggested as important contributors to the development of post- stroke dementia, and other long-term complications including neurodegeneration in other areas of the body, including the cornea. The cornea is a highly accessible tissue that can be imaged using a non-invasive clinical microscope, which enables direct observation of individual sensory nerve axons, and is used as a surrogate marker of peripheral nerve health. Most experimental models of stroke-induced pathology have focused on the inflammatory response in the brain, which is to be expected given the location of stroke trauma. Few studies have considered how stroke affects the activation of immune cells and inflammatory markers in the systemic circulation (i.e. blood), and other tissues that harbour dense networks of sensory nerves, which belong to the peripheral nervous system. Understanding how stroke can lead to widespread inflammatory changes in the circulation, and how it contributes to peripheral nerve pathology, is important to identify possible targets for therapies aimed at reducing the risk of post-stroke complications.

This project will use an experimental model of stroke to longitudinally measure inflammatory markers and immune cell activation in the brain, blood and eye at acute and long-term timepoints after stroke. The severity of inflammation will be correlated with cognitive function. This project will also include a clinical study of corneal nerve changes and tear neuropeptides (proteins present in tears that indicate nerve health) in stroke patients, to assess whether the cornea can serve as a useful tissue to determine nerve health and immune activation more broadly in post-stroke patients. A wide range of techniques will be used including clinical corneal imaging and tear fluid protein assays in humans, and high-dimensional multi-colour flow cytometry, blood brain barrier integrity and cognitive function testing in experimental models.

Supervisory Team:

Apply:

Correlating brain and systemic inflammation with ocular immune activation in mice and humans following stroke

This project will be based at the University of Melbourne, with at least 12 months spent at The University of Manchester.

Project description:

Any major trauma or disease affecting the brain, such as stroke, is often associated with subtle, widespread inflammatory changes that are evident both in the brain, and in the blood circulation. Understanding how the immune system responds following stroke is key to identifying critical periods for treatment and for monitoring response to therapy that has an immunological basis. The degree of brain inflammation can be measured in patients following stroke using techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET) imaging however this is expensive and invasive, involving injections of radiopharmaceuticals, which can challenging for already vulnerable patients. In the last two decades, there has been remarkable progress in the development of imaging technologies that can enable visualisation of immune cells in the eye. The eye is an outpocket of the brain, and thus is an ideal organ to study to gain insights into the immune status of an individual.

The eye contains two major tissues that can be non-invasively imaged by clinicians and researchers: the retina and the cornea. The retinal and brain immune systems are closely linked, with both containing immune cells that share similar developmental origins. The cornea is a transparent connective tissue that is densely innervated by the peripheral nervous system, and a distinct population of immune cells that are equipped to living in a uniquely transparent and exposed tissue at the surface of the eye. We have recently shown that corneal immune cells are physically intertwined with sensory nerves whose ganglions reside in the brain, and are highly sensitive to brain-derived inflammation and neurodegeneration. Our laboratory has reported striking changes to the shape of corneal immune cells morphology in an experimental model of dementia; these immune cell changes occurred before the onset of corneal sensory nerve loss, and dementia-related brain pathology. These findings suggest that the cornea could serve as a useful and highly accessible peripheral organ to assess and observe the inflammatory status of stroke-related brain inflammation. Using a non-invasive confocal camera in A/Prof Downie's laboratory at the University of Melbourne, we have found that corneal immune cell morphology is altered in patients with mild cognitive impairment compared to healthy controls; these data provide strong evidence that the corneal immune cells reflect inflammation in the brain and systemic circulation.

This project will use an experimental model of stroke to ask the question of whether ocular immune cells can be used as surrogate markers of brain neuroinflammation. Markers of brain and blood inflammation will be correlated with corneal and retinal inflammation by comparing the type and shape of immune cells in the three tissues. This project will also examine novel markers of ocular inflammation in a clinical imaging study involving stroke patients, to determine if ocular imaging of immune cells can provide insights into the degree of post-stroke inflammation, which is a risk factor for developing secondary conditions such as dementia. Techniques will include high throughput flow cytometry and confocal microscopy, and sophisticated image analysis of immune cells in the eyes of experimental models, and human eyes.

Supervisory Team:

Apply:

Cysteinolic Acid Metabolism in Marine Algae and its Fate in Humans

This project will be based at The University of Manchester, with at least 12 months spent at the University of Melbourne.

Project description:

An exciting new Chemical Biology PhD opportunity exists to discover new pathways for the degradation of sulfur-containing marine metabolites and enzymes for their utilization in humans. This project will be hosted jointly between the Universities of Manchester and Melbourne.

The element sulfur is required for the growth and existence of all living organisms. Sulfur forms a diverse array of small organo-sulfur molecules connected through complex chemical networks that allow the “cycling” of sulfur in our environment. This process is known as the biogeochemical cycle, and is crucial due to its significance in agriculture, food production, and carbon dioxide uptake. Despite this, many of the main chemical species are poorly studied with little known about their biosynthesis or degradation. The discovery of missing links in these biochemical pathways will transform our understanding of the natural world. This project will discover and characterize new pathways and enzymes involved in the biogeochemical sulfur cycle. It will involve synthetic organic chemistry, biochemistry, and structural biology.

The project seeks to answer the following questions:

  • What is the distribution of cysteinolic acid in diverse marine alga?
  • What is the pathway used by marine microbes to break down cysteinolic acid?
  • What is the distribution and occurrence of degradative pathways for cysteinolic acid in marine ecosystems?
  • Can cysteinolic acid be metabolized into bile salts by human liver conjugation enzymes?

The project will utilize state-of-the-art instrumentation including nuclear magnetic resonance, high-resolution mass spectrometry, isothermal titration calorimetry, size exclusion chromatography multi-angle light scattering, and analytical high-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, and will be exposed to an exciting inclusive, collaborative, international research environment.

The discovery of new metabolic pathways for breakdown of cysteinolic acid, an abundant yet currently enigmatic organosulfur metabolite, will enrich our understanding of how these molecules support marine ecosystems and contribute to food webs. Further, this work will contribute to a deeper understanding of the biogeochemical sulfur cycle, which is important for primary production of biomass in the ocean.

Supervisory Team:

Apply:

Discovery of New Pathways for Marine Organosulfur Metabolism

This project will be based at the University of Melbourne, with at least 12 months spent at The University of Manchester.

Project description:

An exciting opportunity exists, to undertake a joint PhD between the Universities of Manchester and Melbourne. This project will involve the synthesis of sulfur marine metabolites and the discovery of new microorganisms, new enzymes and new biochemical pathways used for cross-feeding relationships in the sea. Uncovering missing links in biochemical pathways has the potential to transform our understanding of sulfur cycling in the natural world. Sulfur is an essential element for life on Earth, and is one of the four macronutrients (along with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) required for the growth and existence of all living organisms. Microorganisms produce a diverse array of small organo-sulfur molecules that act as “metabolic currencies”. They facilitate the transfer of sulfur between organisms throughout the biological world. A comprehensive understanding of the metabolism of organo-sulfur molecules is crucial because of the importance of sulfur cycling in agriculture, food production, and carbon sequestration (the process of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere). Despite the critical importance of organo-sulfur metabolites, many of these chemical species remain poorly understood.

The project will discover and characterize new biochemical pathways and enzymes involved in the sulfur cycle. The candidate will be based in Melbourne and will spend one year at the University of Manchester. The project will involve synthetic chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology. The candidate will synthesize novel organosulfur metabolites and use these to discover new degrader organisms, and the molecular basis for their breakdown. Working in Manchester, the candidate will undertake biophysical characterization and structural studies on newly identified proteins.

The project will utilize state-of-the-art instrumentation including protein x-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance, high-resolution mass spectrometry, isothermal titration calorimetry, size-exclusion chromatography multi-angle light scattering, and analytical high-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, and will be exposed to an exciting inclusive, collaborative, international research environment.

Supervisory Team:

Apply:

Bioinspired colourimetric sensors and indicators through photonic structures

This project will be based at The University of Manchester, with at least 12 months spent at the University of Melbourne.

Project description:

Colourimetric sensors can offer simple, low-cost and selective detection solutions to detect chemical changes. In particular, disposable sensors are cheap and easy-to-use devices for single-shot measurements. Due to increasing requests for in situ analysis or resource-limited areas of the world, we need to develop disposable sensors that are environmentally friendly and have high selectivity and precision in their colour response. Inspired by the colour-switching strategies applied by certain beetle species in nature, this PhD project will explore the development of such colourimetric sensors by building photonic substrates and coupling their surface chemistry with selective chemical markers to trigger a colour response (towards detection of pH, ionic interactions and glucose).

The main elements of the project are:

  • Materials chemistry - isolation and chemical modification of the colloidal building blocks
  • Soft Matter physics-understanding the self-assembly and colour response in these systems
  • Advanced characterisation techniques to analyse the morphological changes coupled by the chemical changes during colour detection.

The project will run as an interdisciplinary collaboration with Professor Devi Stuart-Fox’s research group in the School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne, where 12 months of research work will take place. This will provide an opportunity to study the growth of structurally coloured beetle species that also shows colour changes towards external chemical and mechanical stimuli. Specifically, the Melbourne component will focus on the growth stages of the helicoidal (bouligand) structures in selected scarab beetles (Scarabaeidae) and the mechanism of colour change in leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae).

This project presents an exciting opportunity to advance bio-inspired engineering and material development towards more cost-effective and greener material technologies for advanced applications. The project also aims to push the material properties further to achieve responses to electric and magnetic fields and sense chemical changes in low concentration levels.

Supervisory Team:

Diversity of optical properties in beetles and cues for bioinspired applications

This project will be based at the University of Melbourne, with at least 12 months spent at The University of Manchester.

Project description:

Beetles produce some of the most vivid colours in the natural world using periodic submicrometer-scale structures in their elytra (wing covers) that cause interference of light. These structures have the potential to inspire a wide range of applications in materials and sensing but this potential is currently limited by insufficient biological knowledge. This project will focus on the characterisation of two types of structure found in beetles, which each offer specific advantages for developing bioinspired materials.

In particular, in the project, we will work on two distinct structural systems in beetles;

  • The layered helicoidal 'bouligand' structures in scarab beetles (Scarabidae)
  • The mechanism of colour change in some leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae).

Bouligand structures are widespread in nature and have many advantages, including high mechanical strength and fracture resistance, and the ability to produce vivid metallic and iridescent colours. In contrast to scarab beetles, some chrysomelid beetles have the ability to rapidly change colour, likely by controlling humidity within multilayers within the cuticle. The 'plywood' structure in scarabs and colour change mechanism in some chrysomelids are of particular interest for bioinspired materials and sensors, but the biology remains poorly understood. There is a great deal to be discovered about specific mechanisms, the material properties (such as mechanical properties) and how these properties are optimised for different functions.

This genuinely interdisciplinary PhD is based in the School of BioSciences at the University of Melbourne but is hosted jointly with the Department of Materials at Manchester, where 12 months of the research work will take place. The Melbourne component will involve experimental work on beetles and a range of high-end microscopy. The Manchester component will involve fabrication and characterisation of chitin-based materials inspired from the biological structures discovered at Melbourne. This PhD offers a unique opportunity to combine biological discovery with real-world application.

Supervisory Team:

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