University of Cambridge

Job Opportunities


PhD Studentship - The molecular mechanisms of piRNA-guided transposon silencing

The Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute (CRUK CI) is a joint venture between the Charity, Cancer Research UK, and the University of Cambridge. The Institute has excellent state-of-the-art facilities and research ranges from basic cancer biology and computational biology through to translational research and clinical application. Graduate students play a pivotal role in the continuing success of our research programmes and gaining a studentship in the Institute is an excellent opportunity to start a research career in an environment committed to training outstanding cancer research scientists of the future. For further information, go to:

Professor Greg Hannon and Dr Benjamin Czech wish to appoint a student to work on the project entitled: The molecular mechanisms of piRNA-guided transposon silencing.

For further information about the research group, including their most recent publications, please visit their website:

Project description:
The Hannon laboratory has a long-standing interest in small RNA biology. In recent years, the lab has focused on the study of the PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) in Drosophila melanogaster. The piRNA pathway is an RNA-based immune system that protects the germline of animals from uncontrolled transposon mobilisation, thus safeguarding genome integrity. Our lab has pioneered this field, being amongst the first describing the pathway, carrying out large-scale genomic screens to identify the main players and characterising their role within the pathway.

This project aims to uncover the molecular mechanisms that underlie the piRNA pathway using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model. While a rough framework of the piRNA system has been established, the precise hierarchy of the events that result in silencing is not yet fully understood. This aim will be achieved by combining biochemistry, proteomics, cell biology, genomics (RNA-seq, small RNA-seq, CLIP-seq, ChIP-seq), imaging and bioinformatics and by exploiting in vitro cell culture models as well as fly genetics. Overall, this project will lie at the interface between small RNA-mediated silencing, chromatin biology and development.

Further reading:
1. Czech B, et al. (2018). piRNA-Guided Genome Defense: From Biogenesis to Silencing. Annual Review of Genetics.
2. Munafò M, et al. (2019). Daedalus and Gasz recruit Armitage to mitochondria, bringing piRNA precursors to the biogenesis machinery. Genes & Development.
3. Fabry MH, et al. (2019). piRNA-guided co-transcriptional silencing coopts nuclear export factors. eLife.
4. Kneuss E, et al. (2019). Specialization of the Drosophila nuclear export family protein Nxf3 for piRNA precursor export. Genes & Development.

The ideal candidate would have a relevant undergraduate degree, a keen interest in working on this project, and would be highly motivated to drive an independent research project. A research Master's degree with six months or more of lab experience, as well as a strong background in genetics, biochemistry or cell/molecular biology would be highly desirable. The successful candidate is expected to work closely with other team members, have excellent communication skills and record keeping habits, organisational and time-management skills, and an inquisitive mind.

This project is funded by a Cancer Research UK studentship that includes full funding for University and College fees and a stipend of £19,000 per annum.

No nationality restrictions apply to Cancer Research UK funded studentships. Applications are invited from recent graduates or final year undergraduates who hold or expect to gain a first/upper second class degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject from any recognised university worldwide.

How to apply:
All applications need to be made using the University Applicant Portal. Please visit: for further information about the course and to access the applicant portal.

To complete your on-line application, you need to provide the following:

Reference Request: The names and contact details of two academic referees who have agreed to act on your behalf.

Research: If you wish to be considered for more than one studentship, please enter the names of all of the supervisors you wish to consider your application in the 'Research summary' text box. If you only wish your application to be considered by a single supervisor, then please enter their name in the 'Research Supervisor' text box. Please describe your past 'Research experience' in the appropriate text box.

Course Specific Questions: Your statement of interest (limit of 2,500 characters) should explain why you wish to be considered for the studentship and which qualities and experience you will bring to the role. Please also state how you learned of the studentship.

Supporting Documents: Please upload your CV (PDF file), which should include a list of the examinations taken at undergraduate level and if possible, your examination results

The closing date for applications is 15 November 2020, with interviews expected to take place in December/January.

Please quote reference SW24181 on your application and in any correspondence about this vacancy.

The University actively supports equality, diversity and inclusion and encourages applications from all sections of society.

The University has a responsibility to ensure that all employees are eligible to live and work in the UK.