Postdoctoral Research Associate in BREX and Bacteriophage-Bacteria Interactions

Durham, United Kingdom
£33,797 - £40,322
Tuesday, 1 December 2020
End of advertisement period
Thursday, 31 December 2020
Academic Discipline
Life sciences, Biological Sciences
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

Department of Biosciences

Grade 7: - £33,797 - £40,322
Fixed Term - Full Time
Contracted Hours per Week: 35
Closing Date: 31-Dec-2020, 7:59:00 AM

Durham University

Durham University is one of the world's top universities with strengths across the Arts and Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences. We are home to some of the most talented scholars and researchers from around the world who are tackling global issues and making a difference to people's lives.

The University sits in a beautiful historic city where it shares ownership of a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Durham Cathedral, the greatest Romanesque building in Western Europe. A collegiate University, Durham recruits outstanding students from across the world and offers an unmatched wider student experience.

Less than 3 hours north of London, and an hour and a half south of Edinburgh, County Durham is a region steeped in history and natural beauty. The Durham Dales, including the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are home to breathtaking scenery and attractions. Durham offers an excellent choice of city, suburban and rural residential locations. The University provides a range of benefits including pension and childcare benefits and the University’s Relocation Manager can assist with potential schooling requirements.

Durham University seeks to promote and maintain an inclusive and supportive environment for work and study that assists all members of our University community to reach their full potential. Diversity brings strength and we welcome applications from across the international, national and regional communities that we work with and serve.

The Department

Biosciences is one of the very best departments in the UK with an outstanding reputation for excellence in teaching, research and employability of our students. Ranked Top 10 for impact in REF2014, the department provides a dynamic and interdisciplinary research environment, with the Blower group located within bespoke laboratories for interdisciplinary work at the biology-chemistry interface. This position is supported by an award from the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine to investigate bacteriophage-resistance mechanisms of bacteria.

The Role

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Microbiology and Biochemistry with a particular emphasis on bacteriophage-bacteria interactions. Studies using bacteriophages (phages) underpin modern genetics and molecular biology. They were used as model systems to define the very nature of the gene and provided reagents that revolutionised early cloning technologies. Phage biology is currently enjoying a renaissance owing to the widespread interest in the CRISPR-cassystems as new tools for genome editing. Furthermore, as the problem of antimicrobial resistance increases, there is renewed interest in the use of phages as therapeutic agents.

Phages outnumber bacteria by ten to one, with an estimated 10^30 phages causing global infections at a rate of 10^25 a second. This selection pressure drives diversity of the global microbiome, and phage-mediated horizontal gene transfer disseminates traits such as antimicrobial resistance between hosts. This pressure has also led to the development of bacterial systems that protect from phage predation. Many of these phage-resistance systems have already proved useful to biochemists, such as the restriction-modification, abortive infection and CRISPR-cas systems. A novel resistance mechanism, BacteRiophage EXclusion (BREX), was recently identified.

BREX is widely distributed and found in ~10% of sequenced microbial genomes. The first identified BREX system comprised a six-gene operon from Bacillus cereus, containing a homologue of the pglZ gene from the Streptomyces phage-resistance system Pgl. Homologues of Pgl genes pglZpglX and pglY (brxC) are all encoded by BREX loci. Whilst a model has started to emerge for Pgl activity as a toxin-antitoxin system, BREX differs mechanistically. For instance, PglX from B. cereus BREX is not inherently toxic like the cognate Pgl system homologue, but has been shown to methylate host DNA at specific recognition sequences. We are investigating two BREX systems. The first is a plasmid-based ten-gene BREX system encoded on a multidrug-resistance plasmid from the Gram-negative emerging pathogen Escherichia fergusonii. The second is a chromosomally encoded eight-gene BREX locus from pathogenic Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium (S. Typhimurium). BREX has the potential to generate reagents with useful biotechnological and biomedical activity. In addition, studying BREX will further our understanding of phage-host interactions. Knowledge of these processes is increasingly relevant as phages become viable alternatives to antibiotics.

This research programme contains three interconnected objectives: (1) Define the essential components of our BREX loci and how they interact; (2) Define the biochemical activity and structure of BREX components and/or complexes; (3) Define how bacteriophages become BREX resistant. These aims will be achieved using a range of techniques including microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, structural biology and genomics. The project will also be supported by two PhD studentships.

The post is fixed term for 12 months and the successful candidate will be working with Dr Tim Blower (Department of Biosciences) at Durham University.


  • To understand and convey material of a specialist or highly technical nature to the team or group of people through presentations and discussions that leads to the presentation of research papers in conferences and publications.
  • To prepare and deliver presentations on research outputs/activities to audiences which may include: research sponsors, academic and non-academic audiences.
  • To publish high quality outputs, including papers for submission to peer reviewed journals and papers for presentation at conferences and workshops under the direction of the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder.
  • To assist with the development of research objectives and proposals.
  • To conduct individual and collaborative research projects under the direction of the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder.
  • To work with the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder and other colleagues in the research group, as appropriate, to identify areas for research, develop new research methods and extend the research portfolio.
  • To deal with problems that may affect the achievement of research objectives and deadlines by discussing with the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder and offering creative or innovative solutions.
  • To liaise with research colleagues and make internal and external contacts to develop knowledge and understanding to form relationships for future research collaboration.
  • To plan and manage own research activity, research resources in collaboration with others and contribute to the planning of research projects.
  • To deliver training in research techniques/approaches to peers, visitors and students as appropriate.
  • To be involved in student supervision, as appropriate, and assist with the assessment of the knowledge of students.
  • To contribute to fostering a collegial and respectful working environment which is inclusive and welcoming and where everyone is treated fairly with dignity and respect.
  • To engage in wider citizenship to support the department and wider discipline.
  • To engage in continuing professional development by participation in the undergraduate or postgraduate teaching programmes or by membership of departmental committees, etc. and by attending relevant training and development courses.   
  • To keep accurate records of data and materials produced during the project.

This post is fixed term for 12 months, funded by a Prize Fellowship awarded to Dr Blower by the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine.

The post-holder is employed to work on research/a research project which will be led by another colleague. Whilst this means that the post-holder will not be carrying out independent research in his/her own right, the expectation is that they will contribute to the advancement of the project, through the development of their own research ideas/adaptation and development of research protocols.

Successful applicants will, ideally, be in post by January 2021

How to Apply

For informal enquiries please contact Dr Tim Blower (timothy.blower@durham.ac.uk). All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence.

We prefer to receive applications online via the Durham University Vacancies Site. https://www.dur.ac.uk/jobs/. As part of the application process, you should provide details of 3 (preferably academic/research) referees and the details of your current line manager so that we may seek an employment reference.

Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in the University.

What to Submit

All applicants are asked to submit:

  • A CV and covering letter which details your experience, strengths and potential in the requirements set out above;

Next Steps

The assessment for the post will include a candidate research presentation and a structured interview. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview and assessment.

The Requirements



  • A good first degree in biological sciences.
  • Submission of a thesis for a PhD in molecular microbiology.


  • Experience in conducting high quality academic research.
  • Experience in research into BREX phage-resistance systems.
  • Experience in research into type IV restriction enzymes.
  • Experience in protein biochemistry.
  • Experience in X-ray crystallography.


  • Demonstrable ability to work cooperatively as part of a team, including participating in research meetings.
  • Ability to work independently on own initiative and to strict deadlines.
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills.



  • A track record of presenting research at conferences, symposia, or meetings, commensurate with stage of career.
  • Experience of overseeing students with respect to the development of their practical/research skills e.g. acting as a demonstrator; supervising student projects/practicals.


  • Demonstrable ability to plan and manage independent research.

DBS Requirement: Not Applicable.