Birkbeck, University of London Featured PhD Programmes
Norwich Research Park Featured PhD Programmes
The University of Manchester Featured PhD Programmes
Norwich Research Park Featured PhD Programmes
European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Heidelberg) Featured PhD Programmes

How does Emiliania huxleyi invade polar oceans? (MOCKUENV20ARIES)

Project Description


Emiliania huxleyi (Ehux) is a dominant species of coccolithophores, which are calcifying microalgae that have influenced global climate for millions of years. Recent observations show that Ehux is expanding its range into both polar oceans likely driven by global warming. The poleward expansion of Ehux raises serious concerns because it’s increase in abundance relative to non-calcifying phytoplankton (e.g. diatoms) will have important effects on the polar carbon cycle and climate feedbacks. However, the reasons for poleward expansions of Ehux are unclear. Thus, the main aim is to understand how Ehux is able to invade polar oceans. The genetic and epigenetic adaptations that enable polar invasions are largely unknown for any species. Yet, this is one of the most fundamental and important questions facing biologists studying the impacts of climate change to date.


Polar and non-polar strains of Ehux will be used to identify differences in their physiological plasticity and genes involved in the adaptation to polar conditions. The student will combine experimental work at UEA, population genomics analyses and fieldwork in the Southern Ocean. RNA sequencing of laboratory strains grown under temperate vs polar conditions accompanied by physiological measurements (e.g. growth rates, calcifying activity) will identify genes required for polar invasion and their associated phenotypes, respectively. To test the “polar-adaptation” potential of genes upregulated under polar conditions (e.g. low temperature), the student will compare the nucleotide substitution patterns of these genes with neutral reference genes. Population genomics analysis with meta-omics data of natural Ehux populations across polar frontal zones in the Southern and Arctic Oceans allows the student to identify if the Ehux gene pools are temporarily stable, or whether there is evidence of a poleward shift in range expansion.


A combination of experimental work, bioinformatics and field-based research that is highly integrative. Student will receive a broad set of skills based on the latest ‘omics’ tools and associated analysis pipelines, laboratory skills with microbes and skills required to conduct oceanographic ship-based field work.


We are looking for an enthusiastic individual who is excited about microbes and climate change.

More information on the supervisor for this project:
Type of programme: PhD
Start date: October 2020
Mode of study: Full-time or part-time
Studentship length: 3.5 years
Eligibility requirements: First degree in Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Evolution

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.

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 in the subject area.

For further information, please visit View Website


Read et al. (2013) Pan genome of the phytoplankton Emiliania underpins its global distribution. Nature (DOI: 10.1038/nature12221)

Mock et al. (2017) Evolutionary genomics of the cold-adapted diatom Fragilariopsis cylindrus. Nature (DOI: 10.1038/nature20803)

Filatov (2019) Extreme Lewontin’s Paradox in Ubiquitous Marine Phytoplankton Species. Molecular Biology and Evolution (

Winter et al. (2014) Poleward expansion of the coccolithophore Emiliania huxlei. Journal of Plankton Research (

Nissen et al. (2018) Factors controlling coccolithophore biogeography in the Southern Ocean. Biogeosciences (

Email Now

Insert previous message below for editing? 
You haven’t included a message. Providing a specific message means universities will take your enquiry more seriously and helps them provide the information you need.
Why not add a message here
* required field
Send a copy to me for my own records.

Your enquiry has been emailed successfully

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2019
All rights reserved.