Rotation PhD Programme

The John Innes Foundation supports the John Innes Centre Rotation PhD programme

“The John Innes Foundation’s long-term support of the PhD programme at the John Innes Centre has made a huge difference to the quality and depth of both the training we could offer, and the science that could be done at the Centre”

Professor Keith Roberts

This programme is renowned for its academic excellence and groundbreaking research.  The programme attracts elite candidates from around the world and offers fully funded four year PhD studentships with enhanced stipends.  Students recruited onto this programme pursue three short research rotations during their first year, with the aim of enhancing their research training, before selecting a supervisor and a topic for their 3-year research project. Students benefit from experience of a wide range of experimental approaches and research environments. There is a general empowerment of student choice in the selection of both research topics and supervisors.

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Example achievements by Rotation PhD alumni

Frank Sainsbury

frank-sainsburyFrank joined the Rotation Student Programme in October 2004, having completed his first degree at the University of Sydney, Australia. The impact of Frank’s thesis research has been dramatic. In particular, it has led to the development of a non-replicating virus-derived vector that provides extremely high-level protein production in plants. The new CPMV-HT expression system has been adopted worldwide for the rapid expression of high value protein components. Examples of important applications include the safe development of animal vaccines and the production of antibodies for therapeutic purposes.

Frank Sainsbury was awarded the 2009 student prize for Excellence in Scientific Research in recognition of outstanding innovations on plant-based expression systems in the laboratory of his PhD supervisor, Professor George Lomonossoff. His next career move was to a post-doctoral position at the University of Laval, Canada, where he continued his exciting studies on the production of high-value proteins in plants. He has now returned to Australia as a UQ Postdoctoral Fellow, developing virus-like particles (VLPs) into more efficacious vaccines and novel therapeutics.

Frank commented: “I really enjoyed my PhD studentship at the John Innes Centre because I was given the opportunity to chose the direction of my studies through the rotation student programme and was provided with the most fantastic research support and facilities.”


Tung Le

Tung-LeTung Le joined the JIC/TSL Rotation PhD programme in October 2007 having gained a first class degree from the University of Birmingham. Following his rotation year, he joined Mark Buttner’s lab in 2008 to work on the molecular basis of resistance to the antibiotic simocyclinone in the producing organism Streptomyces antibioticus.

To execute the work covered in his thesis, Tung had to master molecular genetics, biochemistry, and a great deal of structural biology. In order to address one of the key questions in his research, namely the role of the N-terminal region of the regulatory protein SimR, Tung wrote and won both an EMBO Short-Term Travel Fellowship and a Korner Travel Fellowship to fund a 10-week trip to the lab’s of Prof. Dick Brennan and Prof. Maria Schumacher (Houston, USA), who are internationally acknowledged experts in the crystallography of DNA-protein complexes. Through this trip, Tung crystallised and solved the structure of the SimR-DNA complex, and discovered that the N-terminal extension of SimR binds in the minor groove adjacent to the major groove occupied by the classical HTH motif.

In 2011, Tung was awarded the John Innes Foundation Prize for Excellence in Scientific Research. Tung’s external examiner described his work as “a technical tour de force” showing “outstanding levels of achievement throughout the thesis”. This was echoed by the internal examiner who concluded that “Tung has a great future ahead of him”.

Tung is now a Project Leader at JIC following a post-doc in Prof. Mike Laub’s lab at MIT.