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Do trace gas oxidising bacteria help build soil on volcanic rock? (HERNANDEZ_UBIO23ARIES)

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Marcela Hernandez, Dr L Lehtovirta-Morley, Prof C Murrell  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


Volcanoes produce trace gases, such as methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2), contributing to Earth’s natural greenhouse effect. In volcanic deposits, microorganisms play a crucial role consuming trace gases and producing “early” organic carbon leading to soil formation. Understanding the mechanisms by which these microbes consume trace gases is important as this will determine the rate and nature of initial biomass formation, providing the foundation for the development of heterotrophic microbes, microbial turnover, plant growth and root exudation.  

In this PhD project, you will determine the drivers influencing microbial colonisation of new volcanic soils and the importance of CO in supporting soil formation. You will investigate the microbial community composition, isolate microbes, study their physiology and mechanisms of metabolism of climate-active trace gases.  

The project  

You will be answering these key questions: 1) How do microbes grow on volcanic deposits? and 2) How do these microbes contribute to the microbial food webs that ultimately lead to formation of organic matter on pristine volcanic rock deposits?  

To answer these questions, you will join sampling campaigns in volcanoes in Chile followed by soil incubations and trace-gases measurements. You will be trained in cutting-edge tools for isolation and identification of microbes, including whole genome sequencing, metagenomics and bioinformatics. 


You will receive training in experimental design and data analyses and will learn molecular microbial ecology techniques including DNA sequencing and metagenomics. You will cultivate and identify soil bacteria; perform quantitative PCR, amplicon-based sequencing (metagenetics), whole genome sequencing and (meta)genomic analysis. You will be able to enrol in soft-skills workshops (e.g. how to write a fellowship application, scientific writing) at the University of East Anglia. You will also present your results at weekly lab meetings, departmental seminars, at outreach events, and at national and international conferences. 

Person specification 

We are looking for a highly motivated student willing to help with sampling campaigns in Chilean volcanoes and with background knowledge of basic microbiology techniques. The successful candidate will have a strong background in Microbial, Soil or Environmental Sciences (degree in Soil Microbiology, Environmental Microbiology, or similar). 

For more information on the supervisor for this project, please visit the UEA website www.uea.ac.uk

The start date is October 2023.

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP. Successful candidates will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£17,668 for 2022/23) and funding to support the doctoral research. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines may be considered for an additional three months’ studentship funding.

Unfortunately, no additional funding is available to assist with relocation or visa costs.

ARIES encourages applications from all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, or sexual orientation. Academic qualifications are considered alongside relevant non-academic experience.

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


1 Hernández M, Vera-Gargallo B, Calabi-Floody M, King GM, Conrad R, Tebbe CC. Reconstructing genomes of carbon monoxide oxidisers in volcanic deposits including members of the class Ktedonobacteria. Microorganisms. 2020 Nov 27;8(12):1880. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms8121880.
2 Hernández M, Calabi M, Conrad R, Dumont M. 2020b. Analysis of the microbial communities in soils of different ages following volcanic eruptions. Pedosphere. 30: 126-134. doi:10.1016/S1002-0160(19)60823-4.
3 Hernández M, Dumont MG, Calabi M, Basualto D, Conrad R. Ammonia oxidizers are pioneer microorganisms in the colonization of new acidic volcanic soils from South of Chile. Environ Microbiol Rep. 2014 Feb;6(1):70-9. doi: 10.1111/1758-2229.12109.
4 Radajewski S, Ineson P, Parekh NR, Murrell JC. Stable-isotope probing as a tool in microbial ecology. Nature. 2000 Feb 10;403(6770):646-9. doi: 10.1038/35001054.
5 King GM, Weber CF. Distribution, diversity and ecology of aerobic CO-oxidizing bacteria. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2007 Feb;5(2):107-18. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro1595. PMID: 17224920.
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