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Cryptic microbial hydrocarbon cycling in the ocean


   School of Life Sciences

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  Prof T J McGenity, Dr B McKew, Dr D Lea-Smith, Dr N Pedentchouk  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Supervisory Team

Prof Terry McGenity and Dr Boyd McKew (School of Life Sciences, University of Essex)

Dr David Lea Smith and Dr Nikolai Pedentchouk (University of East Anglia)

Background

This PhD explores a hidden hydrocarbon cycle between phototrophic and heterotrophic microbes, which has extensive implications ranging from global carbon cycling to oil-spill response.

Marine cyanobacteria synthesise alkanes/alkenes, releasing 100 times more hydrocarbons into the ocean than oil seeps and pollution events! However, the sea is not awash with oil thanks to microbes that degrade this steady, widespread, but low-concentration supply of hydrocarbons: the short-term hydrocarbon cycle.

Microalgae (photosynthetic protists, such as diatoms) have much higher global biomass and diversity than cyanobacteria, producing a broader range of hydrocarbons, yet their contribution to hydrocarbon cycling is unknown.

Hypotheses

1) a more diverse microbial consortium is required to degrade the broad range of microalgal, rather than cyanobacterial, hydrocarbons, because most hydrocarbon-degrading species use a narrow range of hydrocarbons,

2) both previously characterised bacteria and novel, uncultivated microbes will degrade hydrocarbons at natural low concentrations.

Approach

You will learn and employ a wide range of methods to test these hypotheses, and to explore others that arise. You will review the literature on microalgal hydrocarbons, and any under-represented taxa will be grown and their hydrocarbons profiled. Using marine samples from coastal cruises, you will identify how the phytoplankton community affects the composition of biogenic hydrocarbons.

These data will direct the design of laboratory experiments to identify which marine microbes degrade abundant microalgal alkanes/alkenes, e.g. using high-throughput sequencing and stable-isotope probing. There is plenty of scope to follow interesting leads, such as cultivating and characterising novel hydrocarbon-degrading microbes.

Training

You will join the vibrant Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Research Group at the University of Essex, and also work with co-supervisors at the University of East Anglia. The experienced multi-disciplinary supervisory team will train you in skills that underpin the fields of environmental microbiology, biogeochemistry etc., such as gas-chromatography mass-spectrometry and high-throughput sequencing, and support your career progression, e.g. by helping you develop writing/analytical skills. There will also be opportunities to attend advanced courses (via ARIES, the University of Essex or externally) to develop techniques.

Person specification

We are looking for someone who is enthusiastic about understanding and protecting the environment.

How to Apply

Email a covering letter and CV to [Email Address Removed] by 23:59pm on 11/01/2023

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022/23) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK.

Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.

ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside significant relevant non-academic experience.

For further information, please visit www.aries-dtp.ac.uk


Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP.
Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022/23) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK.

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