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Thesis Prize 

This annual prize celebrates Durham's interdisciplinary postgraduate students. The prize focusses on students who have applied creativity and initiative to their research, particularly those who have driven the research far beyond expectations.

The assessment takes into account the excellence of the science included in the nominee's thesis as well as their development as a research with the skills and breadth of knowledge needed for interdisciplinary research. 

This year the Thesis Prize Lecture will be given by the 2023 winner Dr Katy Cornish. Katy completed her PhD in the group of Professor Ehmke Pohl. Her thesis was entitled: Searching for novel enzymes from microbial dark matter.


2023 Thesis Prize

Fantastic proteins and where to find them

Dr Katy Cornish

12-1.30 pm, 8 December 2023

Registration link:

Location: Pennington Room, Grey College (



The vast majority of inhabited environments on Earth are dominated by uncultivated microbes, described as ‘microbial dark matter’. Many such organisms fall within a recently uncovered expanse of the bacterial domain of the tree of life, known as the Candidate Phyla Radiation, which is thought to harbour a third of all biodiversity within the tree of life. The genomes within this mysterious microbial world present a major untapped source of genetic diversity and potential molecular tools for biological research.

The Virus-X consortium endeavoured to probe the sequence diversity of extreme environments through metagenomics, and identify commercially valuable enzymes. From a pool of over 50 million genes discovered during the Virus-X project, 18 from the Candidate Phyla Radiation were selected as targets of particular interest for production and characterisation. One key target was CPR-C4, which, through remarkable structural similarity to human vasohibin proteins, was characterised as a cysteine protease utilising an unusual cysteine-histidine-leucine(carbonyl) catalytic triad. The unexpected structural and functional similarities between CPR-C4 and the human vasohibins suggest an evolutionary relationship undetectable at the sequence level alone.


Making a nomination for 2024

To make a nomination please send the following to 

  1. Thesis abstract
  2. Letter of support (maximum of one page of A4)
  3. Minimum of two expert reports from outside the supervisory team (e.g. examiner's report) 
  4. List of publications and presentations associated with the nominee's thesis 
  5. Nominee's CV 



Nominees for 2024 must submit their thesis at Durham University between June 2023 and June 2024. 

A large portion of the nominee's research must be cross-disciplinary at the boundaries between the life sciences and other physical sciences including mathematical sciences and engineering. 

The prize consists of a £500 payment and prize certificate. The presentation of the prize will be made at the BSI's  Annual Summer Showcase. 

Evaluation of nominations will look for

1. Outstanding performance of the student and their development as a researcher 
2. Impact on the field as evidenced by the nomination materials 
3. Quality of the cross-disciplinary aspect of the research: was the approach relevant and well-considered. 

Please contact  for full details on criteria and application requirements. 

Closing date: 28 June 2024