Funded PhD Opportunity Potential beneficial effects of microbial biosurfactants on the human skin microbiome.

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


The human skin microbiome is highly complex and is composed of a multiplicity of different species from a somewhat restricted range of genera. The skin microbiome is made more complex by the fact that different areas of the body have a different flora dependent on the different conditions. Thus there are dry areas, such as the arm and leg surfaces, there are moist areas created in folded areas of skin and sebaceous areas where lipophilic bacteria predominate. Although the skin microbiome does contain some potentially pathogenic bacteria most of the members of the microbiome are neutral or beneficial in that they interact with the skin immune system and help to prevent infection.

Many of the companies involved in manufacturing personal care products, such as cosmetics, shampoos, toothpaste, mouthwashes and skin care creams are actively investigating the replacement of chemical surfactants in their products with biosurfactants produced from renewable resources. Surfactants are critical ingredients in many product formulations as they provide emulsification activity to allow aqueous and oily phases to be mixed.

This project will focus on the potential use of microbial biosurfactants such as rhamnolipids and sophorolipids in skin care products. One key feature of microbial biosurfactants is that they have additional bioactivities, such as antibacterial, anticancer and possibly anti-inflammatory which sets them apart from many of the purely chemical surfactants.

In this project the objective will be to determine whether prolonged use of a skin care product containing microbial biosurfactants could produce significant shifts in the composition of the skin microbiome that may be detrimental to health. The approach will involve the use of individual and mixed biosurfactants against skin microbial populations.

The project will concentrate on the flora of dry skin areas and will involve organisms such as Propionibacterium acnes, Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum and various species of Streptococcus and Staphylococcus. The experimental approaches will include the use of molecular methods together with conventional culture methods using the Leeds Skin Model (Labskin) (Bojar RA, 2015 Applied In Vitro Toxicology 1, 165-171 doi:10.1089/aivt.2015.0002).

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University

Launch of the Doctoral College

Current PhD researchers and an alumnus shared their experiences, career development and the social impact of their work at the launch of the Doctoral College at Ulster University.

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My experience has been great and the people that I have worked with have been amazing

Kieran O'Donnell - 3D printing of biological cells for tissue engineering applications

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Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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Throughout my PhD I’ve been provided with continuous support and guidance by my supervisors and the staff at the University.I’ve also received many opportunities to further enhance my professional development in the form of teaching experience and presenting my work at conferences which will aid in my pursuit of a career in academia or industry.

William Crowe

Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 18 February 2019
Interview Date
Weeks commencing 11, 18, 25 March 2019


Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
Our coastal and riverside campus focussing on science and health

Contact Supervisor

Professor Ibrahim Banat

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #342778 when applying for this PhD opportunity