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Deciphering algal metabolism of key marine chemicals involved in the sulfur biogeochemical cycle

Project Description

Marine ecosystems play major role in the biogeochemical cycling of several chemical elements, including sulfur. This is due to the metabolism of two key compounds, dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) and dimethyl sulfide (DMS). Very abundant quantities of DMSP (a billion tons per year) are produced by diverse marine organisms, mainly micro- and macroalgae, with additional contribution from some corals, certain heterotrophic bacteria, and a few plants living on coastal environments. DMS (300 million tons made each year) results from enzymatic cleavage of DMSP. Both compounds have key biological and ecological roles within marine ecosystems: they are synthesised in response to biotic and abiotic stress; they are also important infochemicals, e.g. driving algae-bacteria interactions, and attracting marine animals towards their food supply. In addition, part of the DMS produced (about 10%) is released in the atmosphere where it is oxidised to products that are important for cloud formation. Despite recent progress made in identifying proteins involved in algal DMSP production and cleavage into DMS, there are missing biosynthetic enzymes that have yet to be characterized (Zhang et al. 2019, This project provides an opportunity to conduct a comparative analysis of molecular mechanisms involved in biosynthesis and degradation of DMSP in selected micro- and macroalgae to fill these gaps. It will combine several approaches including transcriptomic and metabolite profiling, protein heterologous expression, enzyme characterization, and reverse genetics to improve the mechanistic understanding of DMSP and DMS metabolism in algae. This will help to deepen knowledge on the biological and ecological roles of DMSP and DMS in marine ecosystems and in the global sulfur cycle.

Funding Notes

The studentship is fully funded for three years by the Department of Biology and covers: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,000 estimated for 2020 entry), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. The successful candidate will be required to contribute to departmental teaching by undertaking 30 hours/year demonstrating for Biology practicals.


Entry requirements: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. We welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any relevant biosciences subject that provides the necessary skills, knowledge and experience the research project.

Start date: October 2020

How good is research at University of York in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.37

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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