Funded PhD Opportunity VALGUT: Phenyl-γ-valerolactones are microbiota-derived compounds that can impact gut health

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Biomedical Sciences


Diets rich in (poly)phenols are recognised as having beneficial roles in health and the prevention of  a wide range of chronic diseases1. Flavan-3-ols are the major class of flavonoids in the human diet, present in tea, red wine, cocoa and berries. These flavan-3-ols have limited systemic bioavailability and growing evidence indicates that it is colonic catabolites of these compounds, namely, phenyl-ᵧ-valerolactones (PVLs) and their related phenylvaleric acids (PVAs), that exert health effects in vivo2.

Despite their presumed importance, these gut microbiota-derived compounds are not well studied in terms of their microbial catabolism nor the resultant biological activity of PVLs and PVAs2. To address this shortfall, we will use a proven ex vivo strategy already successful in identifying novel and physiological relevant (poly)phenols from berry fruits3.

We will comprehensively determine the metabolic fate of a source of dietary flavan-3-ols following human consumption in a group of ileostomy patients4 and determine the amount of dietary flavan-3-ols that would enter the colon. Using our novel ex-vivo model3, in collaboration with the University of Parma (Prof D Del Rio), we will investigate the role of the colonic microbiota in formation of phenyl- ᵧ -valerolactones (PVLs) and their related phenylvaleric acids (PVAs), using UHPLC-ESI-MSn 5, as a function of both time and metabotype6.

Ultimately this will enable determination of the impact of these gut metabolites on models of bioactivity relevant to gastrointestinal health3,7.


1.Del Rio D, Rodriguez-Mateos A, Spencer JP et al. (2013) Antioxid Redox Signal 18,1818-1892

2.Mena P, Bresciani L, Brindani et al. (2018) Natural Product Reportc) DOI: 10.1039/c8np00062j

3.McDougall GJ, Allwood JW, Pereira-Caro G etal (2017) Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017 Feb;61(2). doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201600327

4.McDougall GJ, Conner S, Pereira-Caro G et al.(2014). J Agric Food Chem. 2014, 30,7631-7641

5.Brindani N, Mena P, Calani L et al. (2017) Mol Nutr Food Res 61(9). doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201700077.

6.Espín JC, González-Sarrías A, Tomás-Barberán FA. (2017) Biochem Pharmacol.; 139:82-93.

7.Brown EM, Nitecki S, Pereira-Caro G, et al (2014). Biofactors., 40, 611-623

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

Dr Chris Gill

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #342799 when applying for this PhD opportunity