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Identifying the key microbial players in terrestrial nitrogen cycling (LEHTOVIRTA-MORLEYLU20ERC)

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  • Full or part time
    Dr L Lehtovirta-Morley
    Prof C Murrell
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Ammonia oxidation is a key process in the global nitrogen cycle and responsible for enormous loss of nitrogen fertiliser, environmental pollution and climate change. Distinct groups of bacteria and archaea carry out ammonia oxidation in the environment and dominate in contrasting habitats. There are, however, many open questions about which microorganisms have the greatest contribution to nitrification in soil ecosystems and how the physiological traits of different microorganisms affect their relative contributions. Furthermore, little is known about the competition between different ammonia oxidising microorganisms and which environmental parameters determine the success of these microorganisms in a complex community. These knowledge gaps make it difficult to efficiently manage soil ecosystems. The aim of this studentship is to investigate the competition between ammonia oxidisers and to determine their contributions to nitrification in mixed microbial communities.

This project is part of an ERC Starting Grant “Linking ecology, enzymes and ecosystems in the global nitrogen cycle (UNITY)”.

The student will be trained in a broad range of cutting edge microbiology techniques, including cultivation of pure cultures of ammonia oxidisers and microscopy, molecular biology and physiology, metagenomics and analytical biochemistry techniques. Applicants will have a minimum 2:1 BSc or a Master’s degree (or equivalent) in Microbiology, Biological Sciences, Biochemistry or Molecular Biology and a strong background in microbiology.

Informal enquiries prior to the application are strongly encouraged, please contact Laura Lehtovirta-Morley.

For more information on the supervisor for this project, please go here:

This is a PhD programme.

The start date of the project is 1 October 2020.

The mode of study is full-time. The studentship length is 4 years.

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) for 4 years. Full funding is available to UK/EU applicants only, and includes Home/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend of £15,285.

Entry requirements:

Acceptable first degree in Biological Sciences and related subject areas.

The standard minimum entry requirement is 2:1.


i) Lehtovirta-Morley LE, Stoecker K, Vilcinskas A, Prosser JI, Nicol GW (2011) Cultivation of an obligate acidophilic ammonia oxidizer from a nitrifying acid soil. PNAS 108: 15892-15897.

ii) Lehtovirta-Morley LE, Ross J, Hink L, Weber, EB, Gubry-Rangin C, Thion C, Prosser JI, Nicol GW (2016) Isolation of ‘Candidatus Nitrosocosmicus franklandus’, a novel ureolytic soil archaeal ammonia oxidiser with tolerance to high ammonia concentration. FEMS Microbiol Ecol 92:fiw057.

iii) Lehtovirta-Morley LE, Sayavedra-Soto L, Gallois N, Schouten S, Stein LY, Prosser JI, Nicol GW (2016) Identifying potential mechanisms enabling acidophily in the ammonia-oxidizing archaeon 'Candidatus Nitrosotalea devanaterra'. Appl Environ Microbiol 82:2608-2619.

iv) Wright CL, Schatteman A, Crombie AT, Murrell JC, Lehtovirta-Morley LE (2020) Inhibition of ammonia monooxygenase from Ammonia-oxidizing Archaea by linear and aromatic alkynes. Appl Environ Microbiol 86 (in press).

v) Lehtovirta-Morley LE (2018) Ammonia oxidation: Ecology, physiology, biochemistry and why they must all come together. FEMS Microbiol Lett 365(9):fny058.

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