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Marine fungi and the biological pump – a quest for novel “biomarkers” for key players in the global carbon cycle

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  • Full or part time
    Dr S Lengger
    Dr M Cunliffe
    Dr Darci Rush
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Project description

The biological pump, in which carbon is removed from the atmosphere and transported to the deep dark interior of the ocean, plays a large role in global climate. However, many key players in carbon cycling are poorly understood. It has only recently been discovered that marine fungi constitute a substantial proportion of microbial biomass in the ocean; they potentially fulfil important ecosystem functions, including impacting phytoplankton activity and the biological carbon pump by degrading phytoplankton-derived polysaccharides, marine snow, or plastics [e.g. doi:10.1038/s41579-019-0175-8]. Despite their potential importance, remarkably little is known about their diversity, quantitative abundance, and activity. Specific lipids of fungi, so-called biomarkers, can provide a useful tool to study their biomass and activity [e.g. doi:10.1038/ismej.2016.131].

In this exciting PhD project, you will culture and chemically characterise marine fungi, and use the results to quantify fungal biomass and activity in marine settings.


1. Isolate and describe the lipid composition of novel fungal species

2. Conduct coastal and sea-going fieldwork (research cruises)

3. Apply biomarkers to quantify fungal biomass and activity in marine environments

Supervisors: You will be based at the University of Plymouth (Dr Lengger, Dr Cunliffe) and the Marine Biological Association (Dr Cunliffe), with research visits to the Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (Dr Rush).

Training: You will develop experimental, analytical, and transferable skills, through training from the supervisory team, and your skills in applied science, and science communication.

Candidate profile: Self-motivated student with interest in marine biogeochemistry, and background in (Marine) Biological, Chemical, or Environmental Sciences.


Applicants should have (at least) a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant MSc or MRes qualification.

The studentship is supported for three years and includes full home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £15,285 per annum. The studentship will only fully fund those applicants who are eligible for home/EU fees with relevant qualifications. Applicants normally required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between the home/EU and the overseas tuition fee rates (approximately £12,405 per annum).

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Sabine Lengger ([Email Address Removed]). However, applications must be made in accordance with the details shown below.

General information about applying for a research degree at University of Plymouth is available at: . You can apply via the online application available on the link above and by clicking ’Apply now’.

For more information on the admissions process contact [Email Address Removed].

Funding Notes

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 30 April 2020. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview in the week starting 25 May 2020. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received an offer of a place by early June should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.


The studentship is supported for 3 years and includes full home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend (2019-20 rate is £15,009 per annum, 2020-21 rate to be confirmed).The studentship will only fully fund those applicants who are eligible for home/EU fees with relevant qualifications. Non home/EU students will be required to

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