Stuart Simms


        Photo of SAMS PhD student Stuart Simms

PhD student

My main interest is the production of polysaccharides by bacteria and their application within the biotechnology industry. Polysaccharides are complex chains of sugar molecules and represent a sustainable resource with potential to replace traditional chemicals extracted from crude oil.

Contact details:
  • Stuart.Simms@sams.ac.uk
  • +44 (0)1631 559000


  • Linkedin

Development of a marine bacterial polymer with gelling properties

My PhD focuses on the characterisation of a novel marine bacterium and the gel-forming polysaccharide it produces. Bacteria produce polysaccharides as a means of protecting themselves against environmental stress, and as a means of storing excess nutrients. The properties that allow polysaccharides to fulfil these roles in the environment are desirable in a number of industries including pharmaceuticals and nanotechnology. A number of bacterial polysaccharides have already made it to market, but the marine environment remains underexploited, providing a vast diversity of bacteria and polysaccharides to discover.

In order to extract the polysaccharide, I first grow the bacterium in bioreactor cultures. Within the bioreactors I can carefully control conditions such as temperature, air flow and pH, creating the optimum conditions for polysaccharide production. The bacterium produces polysaccharide as it grows and extraction can be performed after a matter of days using centrifugation, alcohol precipitation and freeze drying. These same laboratory techniques can be applied at the industrial scale.

With purified polysaccharide I am performing a number of assays and analytical chemistry techniques to identify its physical and functional properties, as well as its molecular structure. This will allow me to understand the relationship between structure and properties, how the polysaccharide can be applied at an industrial scale, and whether the polysaccharide can be tailored for enhanced properties.

Time permitting, I want to explore the bacterial genome to identify genes that are involved in the production of this polysaccharide. To achieve this I will use a combination of transposon mutagenesis, transcriptomics and bioinformatics.


Supervisors

Dr David Green (SAMS)

Professor Linda Harvey (University of Strathclyde)

Dr Brian McNeil (University of Strathclyde)


Funder

Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC)


University

University of the Highlands and Islands

Poster presentations

IBioIC annual conference 2016: "Development of a marine polymer with industrial potential"

IBioIC annual conference 2017: "Marine bacterial polymers as a future material"

Teaching experience

From October 2016 to March 2017, I supervised the practical element of a final year undergraduate dissertation. The project was investigating a novel marine bacterium that produced copious quantities of polysaccharide. The work was focused on characterising the carbon sources utilised by the bacterium, the effect of carbon source on polysaccharide yield in flask cultures, and the gelling and emulsifying properties of the polysaccharide.

Public engagement experience

As part of my PhD I became involved in the STEM Ambassador program, which aims to encourage children and young people to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. In 2016 I took part in the Festival of the Sea, working with two hundred first year students from the local high school. The theme of the festival was ‘food from the sea’, so myself and another PhD student gave a presentation on the important, and often unknown, role of seaweed in the food industry. The presentation was followed by an activity using sodium alginate, a seaweed polysaccharide, to create colourful gel shapes, demonstrating one of the key properties of alginate that has been used in the food industry for decades.

Qualifications

2015 MSc Industrial Biotechnology - with merit. University of Strathclyde

2014 BSc (Hons) Microbiology - first class. Glasgow Caledonian University