Probing the roles bacteria play in infant health: Investigations into the glycobiology of human milk oligosaccharides

Understanding proteins that regulate carbohydrates which are involved in human health and disease.

One important type of glycoconjugates is those found in human milk. These are termed human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) and have been demonstrated to be critical to infant health, as beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract of the infant utilise these materials.

These compounds are present at 10 to 20g/litre in human milk and are important for bifidobacteria, which are Gram-positive anaerobic bacteria, that naturally colonise the human intestinal tract. These bacteria are believed to be important for infant health. To date though, limited chemical tools have been generated to study these fundamentally important molecules and therefore the development of such tools is important.

Projects described here will be to design and synthesise molecules of interest for use in biological studies with bifidobacteria to understand how these bacteria process these important oligosaccharides.

Through strong international collaborations with researchers in Japan (opportunity to travel to institutions in this country is encouraged), these compounds will also be co-crystallised with proteins of interest.

Students who are excited about interdisciplinary science and enjoy experimental research in chemistry and/or biochemistry are encouraged to apply. The projects are not exhaustive and other topics under this theme are available. All projects will be tailored to the student’s scientific interests.

For more background information, see the suggested readings below.

Suggested readings

Project goals

Address the development of chemical tools using novel methodologies, both organic and biological

Evaluate the effectiveness of such tools using molecular modelling, enzyme kinetics and protein chemistry

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Use these tools to identify new, and learn how, carbohydrate-based enzymes are involved in biological systems

Associate Professor Keith Stubbs

I completed my undergraduate and PhD studies at UWA, followed by postdoctoral studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. I am currently a Research Associate Professor and head of the GlycoPlus laboratory. My research interests are synthetic chemistry, carbohydrate chemistry and glycobiology.

How to apply

Interested in becoming part of this project? Complete the following steps to submit your expression of interest:

Step 1 - Check criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

Requirements specific to this project:

  • Experience with organic chemistry
  • Experience in biochemistry (desired but not essential)

The level of experience will depend on the project involved.

Step 2 - Submit enquiry to research team leader

Step 3 - Lodge application

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, you should be in a position to proceed to the next step of the UWA application process: Lodge an application. Different application procedures apply to domestic and international students.


Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

External collaborators

Any interested researchers wanting to collaborate are more than welcome to email me to start discussions on topics.

  • Prof. David Vocadlo, Simon Fraser University
  • Prof. Gideon Davies, University of York
  • Dr. Brian Mark, University of Manitoba
  • Dr. Alisdair Boraston, University of Victoria
  • Prof. Shinya Fushinobu
  • Prof. Takane Katayama

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