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(BBSRC DTP) Understanding metal accumulation and tolerance processes in extremophile microalgae for bioremediation potential

   Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr Jon Pittman, Dr Katie Moore, Prof Giles Johnson, Prof J Lloyd  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The potential for using extremophile microalgae for biotechnology applications is significant but the characterisation and validation of these organisms for biotechnological use is lacking. This multi-disciplinary PhD project will address this gap in this important research topic. We have recently isolated and identified strains of extremophile microalgae from an abandoned copper mine environment that can tolerate very high acidity ( to AMD environments in order to understand (1) the molecular adaptation mechanisms to allow both tolerance and sequestration of the metal ions within the cell, (2) the details of subcellular localisation and chemical speciation characteristics of metals within the algal cell, and (3) the validation of using microalgal biomass for metal removal from contaminated waters in small-scale cultivation experiments. These aims will be addressed by focussing predominantly on a strain of alga called Chlamydomonas acidophila and will be mainly testing responses to Cu treatments, although other metals including Cd, Zn and Mn may also be investigated. The outcomes from this exciting project will enhance our fundamental knowledge of metal-tolerant extremophile microalgae, and provide new understanding of environmental stress adaptation and metal accumulation mechanisms, which may in turn give rise to novel biotechnological applications for metal pollutant clean up and metal recycling. A multidisciplinary supervisory team made up of microbial and plant biologists and materials scientists from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Department of Materials will provide training in growth and maintenance of microorganisms, physiological, molecular and biochemical analysis, and cell imaging and chemical speciation techniques by various state of the art spectroscopic, mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) (Moore et al., 2012) and X-ray fluorescence based techniques. (NanoSIMS Group Website) 


Applicants must have obtained or be about to obtain a First or Upper Second class UK honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science, engineering or technology. 

Before you Apply

Applicants must make direct contact with preferred supervisors before applying. It is your responsibility to make arrangements to meet with potential supervisors, prior to submitting a formal online application.

How To Apply

To be considered for this project you MUST submit a formal online application form - full details on eligibility how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website

Your application form must be accompanied by a number of supporting documents by the advertised deadlines. Without all the required documents submitted at the time of application, your application will not be processed and we cannot accept responsibility for late or missed deadlines. Incomplete applications will not be considered. If you have any queries regarding making an application please contact our admissions team [Email Address Removed]

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website

Funding Notes

Studentship funding is for 4 years. This scheme is open to both the UK and international applicants. We are only able to offer a limited number of studentships to applicants outside the UK. Therefore, full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


Dean A.P., Hartley A., McIntosh O.A., Smith A., Feord H., Holmberg N.H., King T., Yardley E., White K.N., Pittman J.K. (2019) Metabolic adaptation of a Chlamydomonas acidophila strain isolated from acid mine drainage ponds with low eukaryotic diversity. Science of the Total Environment 647: 75-87

Moore K.L., Lombi E., Zhao F.J., Grovenor C.R. (2012) Elemental imaging at the nanoscale: NanoSIMS and complementary techniques for element localisation in plants. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 402: 3263-3273

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