Developing electrosynbionic devices using DNA nanotechnology and cyanobacteria

This project combines DNA nanotechnology with synthetic biology and ‘electrosynbionics’. DNA nanotechnology is the use of DNA as a nanoscale engineering material [1], while electrosynbionics [2] involves the use of components inspired by or derived from biology to build devices that generate, use or store electricity. Electrosynbionic devices such as biological photovoltaics could be an important part of the blueprint for a net-zero future.

Inspiration for biological solar cells [3] can be taken from organisms such as cyanobacteria, photosynthetic bacteria that utilise light, water and carbon dioxide to produce organic carbon (e.g. sugars) and oxygen. These microbes have great potential for the development of a variety of next-generation green biotechnologies [4].

In this project the student will combine DNA-based structures or materials with cyanobacterial cells or components thereof, with a view to the fabrication of electrosynbionic devices.

The student will be based in the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering, working with Dr Katherine Dunn (primary supervisor) in the Institute for Bioengineering, and will also have the opportunity to work in the School of Biological Sciences in the laboratory of second supervisor Dr Alistair McCormick. The research is highly interdisciplinary, involving the use of techniques from molecular biology, synthetic biology, nanotechnology, engineering and biophysics.

During this PhD the student will develop new laboratory skills, with at-the-bench training provided where necessary. The student will also have the opportunity to acquire transferable skills and (if desired) engage in activities such as teaching.

The expected start date for this PhD is September 2022. The position is open until filled and it will be closed once a suitable candidate is identified.

[1] The Business of DNA Nanotechnology: Commercialization of Origami and Other Technologies, K.E. Dunn, Molecules (2020), DOI: 10.3390/molecules25020377

[2] The emerging science of electrosynbionics, K.E. Dunn, Bioinspiration and Biomimetics (2020). DOI: 10.1088/1748-3190/ab654f

[3] Biophotovoltaics: oxygenic photosynthetic organisms in the world of bioelectrochemical systems. A.J. McCormick et al., Energy & Environmental Science (2015). DOI: 10.1039/C4EE03875D

[4] Emerging Species and Genome Editing Tools: Future Prospects in Cyanobacterial Synthetic Biology. G.A.R. Gale et al., Microorganisms (2019). DOI: 10.3390/microorganisms7100409

Further Information:

The University of Edinburgh is committed to equality of opportunity for all its staff and students, and promotes a culture of inclusivity. Please see details here:

Closing Date: 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Principal Supervisor: 

Assistant Supervisor: 


The student will need to have at least a 2:1 undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in a relevant discipline, including but not limited to biology, biophysics, biochemistry, bioengineering or nanotechnology.

Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.


Tuition fees and stipend are available for applicants who qualify as Home applicants.

Further information and other funding options.

Informal Enquiries: