Engineering high-efficiency light-driven synthetic biology

Project opportunity

This Earmarked Scholarship project is aligned with a recently awarded Category 1 research grant. It offers you the opportunity to work with leading researchers and contribute to large projects of national significance.

Every two hours Earth receives enough energy from the sun to power our global economy for a year. The capture and use of this energy are essential to power a sustainable zero CO2 emissions future, increase international fuel security and build advanced light-driven industries as part of an expanding circular bioeconomy.

Over 3 billion years, photosynthetic microorganisms have evolved to tap into the huge energy resource of the sun and use it to synthesise a diverse array of biomolecules that collectively form biomass.  This photosynthetic capacity can be adapted to create clean fuels for the future such as hydrogen and an array of high-value biomolecules.

This PhD project is focused on the development of high-efficiency light-driven single cell green algae (microalgae) cell lines that can produce hydrogen fuel from water as well as high-value molecules using advanced genetic “plug-and play” molecular biology techniques.

Building on extensive foundational work, the project will involve the design of expression vectors, cell transformation and screening, creation of specific point mutants and gene knockouts using CRISPR and their characterisation (e.g. photosynthetic physiology, H2 production). The project may extend to technoeconomic analyses of scaled up designs and lab scale validation of the proposed industrial processes.

Scholarship value

As a scholarship recipient, you'll receive: 

  • living stipend of $32,192 per annum tax free (2023 rate), indexed annually
  • tuition fees covered
  • single Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC)


Professor Ben Hankamer

School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences


Preferred educational background

Your application will be assessed on a competitive basis.

We take into account your

  • previous academic record
  • publication record
  • honours and awards
  • employment history.

The successful candidate is expected to have a solid grounding in one or more of the following areas:

  • Molecular biology: including cloning, transformation of microbial systems, assessment of transgenes using PCR.
  • Biochemistry: Microbial physiology assays, enzyme assays.

Finally, the successful candidate is expected to be interested in and committed to utilizing microbial biotechnology and synthetic biology systems for real world applications of benefit to local and global communities.

The applicant will demonstrate academic achievement in the field(s) of molecular biology and biochemistry and the potential for scholastic success.

A background or knowledge of microalgae cultivation and/or technoeconomic modelling (i.e. mathematic analysis and/or modelling) is highly desirable.

Latest commencement date

If you are the successful candidate, you must commence by Research Quarter 2, 2023. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date.

If you are an international applicant, you may need to apply much earlier for visa requirements.

How to apply

You apply for this project as part of your PhD program application.

View application process