The deep subsurface harbours the unseen majority of microbial life on Earth, spanning all three domains of life. Recent research has highlighted the vast diversity that characterises this subsurface life, including new foliage on the tree of life for which no cultivated members exist (‘microbial dark matter’). In addition, subsurface microbial communities are often active, especially where human intervention introduces sources of chemical energy and fluids, for example through drilling for resources and disposal of wastes. Subsurface communities have long been known to impact on subsurface engineering, such as the biogenic production of corrosive hydrogen sulfide during conventional oil and gas extraction, a costly problem for the global energy sector annually. However, it is not well understood how the deep biosphere will impact on long-term geological CO2 storage, a fundamental requirement of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies which are considered essential to realise Net Zero emissions targets. Conversely, the impact of CO2 storage on the diversity and function of subsurface microbial life is also not clear, yet could have significant implications on the long-term fate of stored CO2. It is essential to understand the potential impacts of deep subsurface communities on geological CO2 storage prior to widespread implementation of CCS. In particular, such understanding will enable negative processes (e.g. bioclogging, microbial corrosion, net gas production) to be mitigated as well as any positive processes (e.g. microbially-enhanced sequestration, conversion of CO2 to valuable products) to be harnessed, in order to maximise the success of CCS and minimise environmental impacts of CO2 storage in the long term, and find new ways of making use of captured CO2 emissions in the shorter term.
This experimental project will combine high pressure subsurface simulation approaches (to mimic deep target formations such as saline aquifers) and anaerobic cultivation with geochemical characterisation and cutting edge omics techniques to understand the impact of geological CO2 injection and storage on native subsurface microbial communities. A major focus will be on the utilization of CO2 through individual microbial community members, with the goal of identifying the fate of injected CO2, and the microbe-microbe and microbe-environment interactions involved. Microbial communities will be characterised using multiple coordinated omics approaches, including genome-resolved metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, metabolomics and proteomics, coupled with stable isotope probing techniques. Environmental parameters will be comprehensively monitored using a suite of geochemical analytical approaches.
The successful applicant will join the vibrant new Subsurface Microbiology and Biotechnology group based in the University of Manchester’s flagship Institute of Biotechnology (https://www.mib.manchester.ac.uk/), and will make use of facilities throughout the wider Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (https://www.ees.manchester.ac.uk/wrc/research/facilities/). They will receive training in a wide range of experimental, microbiological, molecular and bioinformatic approaches. There will be opportunities to conduct simulation experiments with an industrial partner, Rawwater Engineering (https://www.rawwater.com/), in addition to the collection of field samples at CO2 injection sites (UK and overseas) as opportunities arise.
To apply please send a cover letter and CV to Sophie Nixon by March 31st ([Email Address Removed]).
Academic background of candidates
Applicants are expected to hold, or be about to obtain, a minimum upper second class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in Microbiology, Biotechnology, Environmental Sciences or closely related discipline. A Masters degree in a relevant subject is highly desirable, as is experience with microbiological cultivation and molecular biology techniques.
Please send a cover letter and CV to Sophie Nixon ([Email Address Removed]).