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Identification of carbon monoxide oxidising bacteria in Arctic soils following glacier retreats (HERNANDEZ_BIO23CDCC)

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Marcela Hernandez, Prof C Murrell, Dr J Bradley  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project


Microorganisms are the initial colonisers of recently deglaciated environments, and are fundamental in shaping their physical, biological, and biogeochemical development. The classic model of soil formation following glacier retreat assumes that autotrophic microorganisms such as cyanobacteria and eukaryotic microalgae in pioneer soils build up a rich source of organic matter. However, trace gases (carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4) and hydrogen (H2)), can also provide energy to newly exposed oligotrophic soils following glacial retreat. These hidden energy sources can facilitate microbial colonisation and the build-up of carbon and biomass, enabling secondary colonisers to become established and thus initiating succession.  

In this PhD, you will investigate how atmospheric traces gases, especially CO, play a role in sustaining microorganisms in the development of newly forming High-Arctic soils. This hypothesis has never been tested before. Related to the objectives of the Critical Decade programme, you will develop methods for measuring real-time atmospheric trace gases that serve to capture information on carbon emissions, climate impacts, and their drivers using molecular ecology cutting-edge techniques.  

The project  

You will evaluate the importance of atmospheric trace gases as drivers of climate change in Artic newly exposed soils and determine how bacteria can oxidise climate-active gases in glacier forefields in Svalbard - a glaciated archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole which is at the forefront of climate change. You will be trained in cutting-edge tools for isolation of microbes, whole-genome sequencing, metagenomics, bioinformatics, and bio-energetic modelling.  


You will receive training in experimental design and data analyses, and learn molecular microbial techniques (DNA sequencing and whole genome sequencing). Specific training includes cultivation of soil bacteria, genome sequencing and (meta)genomic analysis, and DNA-stable isotope probing. You will present your results at lab meetings, departmental seminars, outreach events, and at national and international conferences. 

Person specification 

We seek a pro-active, highly motivated student willing to become a part of a team working on microbes involved in climate change. The candidate should have a background in Microbial Sciences (BSc/Masters in Soil Microbiology, Environmental Microbiology, Biogeochemistry, Molecular Biology or similar). 

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the Critical Decade for Climate Change programme. For more information about the programme and details of how to apply, please visit  

For more information on the supervisor for this project, please visit the UEA website 

The start date for this project is 1st October 2023.

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the Critical Decade for Climate Change programme, which will award PhD studentship funding from the Leverhulme Trust and UEA’s Faculties of Social Sciences and Science.

Successful candidates will be awarded a PhD studentship that pays tuition fees, a stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022/23), and funding to support research costs. Studentship funding is only available to applicants eligible for ‘Home’ fees status, including UK nationals and most EU nationals with ‘settled’ and ‘pre-settled’ status.

Further details of the Critical Decade programme can be found at:


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. 27;8(12):1880. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms8121880.

Hernández, M., M. Farhan Ul Haque†, A.T. Crombie, J.C. Murrell. Identification of active gaseous-alkane degraders at natural gas seeps. ISME Journal. 2022. 16: 1705-1716.

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. 6(1):70-9. doi: 10.1111/1758-2229.12109.

Radajewski S, Ineson P, Parekh NR, Murrell JC. Stable-isotope probing as a tool in microbial ecology. Nature. 2000. 10;403(6770):646-9. doi: 10.1038/35001054.

Bay S, Dong X, Bradley J, Leung P M, Grinter R, Jirapanjawat T, Arndt S, Cook P, LaRowe D, Nauer P, Chiri E, Greening C. Trace gas oxidizers are widespread and active members of soil microbial communities. Nature Microbiology. 2021. doi: 10.1038/s41564-020-00811-w
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