Tracking evolution and biosynthesis of cyclic peptide natural products

Search for circular proteins and their origins throughout the plant kingdom

Cyclic peptides are ultra-stable with many activities claimed for them. In plants they get cut from within precursor proteins and some have taken an evolutionary shortcut by appearing from within what then becomes a host protein.

The genetic events that created them are diverse ranging from millions to tens of millions of years old. The huge and diverse families have activities like blocking enzymes while others have drug potential.

The ability to find these peptides is now accelerated by a tailored algorithm, which coupled to RNA-seq will reveal a huge variety of natural products with potential benefits to biomedicine, plant biology and biotechnology.

As part of this project the successful PhD applicant will:

  • Extract RNA from plants known or suspected of having cyclic peptides for which no gene sequence information is known. The RNA-seq data will be used to assemble transcriptomes which will reveal the gene encoding the peptides. Mass spectrometry will be used to confirm the predictions and accelerate discovery of related peptides. Candidates will be made and tested in bioactivity assays.

For more background information see the suggested readings below.

Suggested readings

Research team leader: Associate Professor Joshua Mylne 

I'm a geneticist and biochemist who has worked broadly in plant genetic engineering, developmental genetics, epigenetics and peptide biochemistry; I am in the School of Molecular Sciences at UWA where I founded my lab in 2013. My research has included studies in protein evolution, biosynthesis and (in close collaboration with synthetic organic chemist Keith Stubbs) increasingly been on herbicide development and target discovery.

Collaborations and Funding



  • ARC Discovery Project DP190102058 “Buried treasure: bioactive plant seed proteins evolving inside hosts” Mylne, Rosengren, van der Hoorn, Hara-Nishimura; $422,000; 2019-2021


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:

  • Molecular biology or biochemistry experience is desirable, but a project could also be tailored to someone with a more bioinformatics-heavy background.

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.

The Australian Government's Endeavour Awards and Scholarships are available to Australian applicants for study in participating countries and regions.

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.

The Australian Government's Endeavour Awards and Scholarships are available to international applicants from participating countries and regions.

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.