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DMSP production in Earths highest producers (TODDU20DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, November 25, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is one of the Earth’s most abundant organosulfur compounds. It is an antistress compound with key roles in global nutrient and sulfur cycling, signalling and climate. Dinoflagellates produce the highest cellular concentrations of this influential compound of all organisms yet there is uncertainty about how these phytoplankton do so. Previously, we identified DMSP synthesis genes in algae and bacteria publishing our findings in Nature Microbiology in 2017, 18 and 19. This PhD aims to characterise the little-known dinoflagellate decarboxylase DMSP synthesis pathway, identify the key genes involved and determine how environmentally significant this pathway is.

The PhD project will use model dinoflagellates that produce high cellular levels of DMSP to investigate the process. The student will be taught how to grow and study the physiology of dinoflagellates at UEA and the University of Cambridge. Using analytical chemistry at UEA and the John Innes Centre (JIC), they will establish and characterise the dinoflagellate DMSP biosynthetic pathway/s. Molecular genetics and biochemistry will be used to identify and validate novel DMSP synthesis genes. The student will study whether environmental conditions affect DMSP production and the transcription of the DMSP synthesis genes to potentially determine the role/s of DMSP in our model dinoflagellates. Finally, using molecular ecology tools and bioinformatics, the diversity, abundance, activity and biogeography of DMSP-producing dinoflagellates and the synthesis genes will be assessed in natural marine environments. This PhD will strengthen our ability to assess the effects of e.g., climate change on DMSP cycling, and the significance of dinoflagellates in global organosulfur cycling.

Training will be provided in dinoflagellate physiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, molecular ecology, bioinformatics and metabolomics at UEA by Malin and Todd, at JIC by Truman and at the University of Cambridge by Waller.

Project supervisor:
Project sponsor: Norwich Research Park Bioscience Doctoral Training Partnership
Type of programme: PhD
Start date: 1 October 2020
Mode of study: Full-time
Studentship length: 4 years


- First degree (2:1 or above) in relevant subject
- English language (IELTS 6.5 overall, 6 in each section)


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the Norwich Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP). Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed as part of the studentship competition. Candidates will be interviewed on either the 7th, 8th or 9th January 2020.

The NRP DTP offers postgraduates the opportunity to undertake a 4-year research project whilst enhancing professional development and research skills through a comprehensive training programme. You will join a vibrant community of world-leading researchers. All NRPDTP students undertake a three-month professional internship (PIPS) during their study. The internship offers exciting and invaluable work experience designed to enhance professional development. Full support and advice will be provided by our Professional Internship team. Students with, or expecting to attain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply.

For further information and to apply, please visit our website:

Funding Notes

For funding eligibility guidance, please visit our website: View Website. Full Studentships cover a stipend (2019/0 rate: £15,009pa), research costs and tuition fees at UK/EU rate and are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.

Students from EU countries who do not meet the UK residency requirements may be eligible for a fees-only award. Students in receipt of a fees-only award will be eligible for a maintenance stipend awarded by the NRPDTP Bioscience Doctoral Scholarships. To be eligible students must meet the EU residency requirements.

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