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Microbial ecology of organosulfur-dependent methane production in wetland sediments

School of Biological & Chemical Sciences

London United Kingdom Bioinformatics Ecology Environmental Biology Microbiology Other

About the Project

Research Environment

The student will be offered a dynamic research environment embedded within a multidisciplinary facility. The School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 160 PhD students working on projects in the biological, chemical and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.

Training and Development

This PhD offers excellent training opportunities in biogeochemistry, environmental microbiology and bioinformatics. The PhD student will develop new skills via training in analytical techniques such as gas chromatography as well as microbial ecology and bioinformatics tools such as PCR, preparation for high-troughput sequencing, stable isotope probing. Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

Project Details

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas with ~30 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide and with a rapidly rising atmospheric concentration. Natural wetlands are the single largest source of methane to the atmosphere with ~40% of total global methane emissions (~224 million tons/year). Studies of microbial methane production normally focus on the acetate (acetoclastic methane production) and carbon dioxide (hydrogenotrophic methane production) pathways. However, our recent findings suggest that the contribution of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) and dimethylsulfide (DMS) to the global methane production is vastly underestimated.                                                                   

Around eight billion tonnes of DMSP is produced annually in saline environments such as marine waters, estuaries and saltmarshes. Once produced, DMSP is cleaved to DMS via a diverse set of enzymes. Dimethylsulfide (DMS) is the most abundant biologically produced organic sulfur compound emitted to the atmosphere. DMS flux is mainly controlled by its microbial degradation in the environment. In anoxic sediments, DMS is degraded by methanogenic microorganisms and sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB), which leads to methane, carbondioxide or hydrogen sulfide production depending on the sulfate availability. Since methane is a significant greenhouse gas, the metabolic route of DMS degradation has major consequences for the global climate. However, we know little about the diversity and metabolism of microbial communities degrading DMSP and DMS in anoxic wetland sediments.                                                                                                                                             

The aim of this PhD research is to reveal the diversity, metabolism and interaction between microbial communities degrading DMSP and DMS in anoxic wetland sediments. Sediment samples will be collected from selected sites in England and microcosms will be set up using DMSP and DMS as the carbon and energy source. Identification of microbial communities will be carried out using high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics tools. The taxonomy and metabolism of methanogenic and SRB populations that actively degrade DMS will also be elucidated using state-of-the-art techniques such as stable-isotope probing in combination with metagenomics and metatranscriptomics.

Experience Required and Application Process

Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree in an area relevant to the project such as environmental sciences, biology, ecology or microbiology. A masters degree is desirable but not essential.

Experience in laboratory-based microbiology techniques is preferable. 

Applicants who are not nationals of a majority English speaking country are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements for details.

Formal applications must be submitted online by the stated deadline including your CV, certificates and transcripts for previous degrees, a personal statement and 2 references. Please see further details on the application process and find the link for the online application form on our website.

The School of Biological and Chemical Sciences is committed to promoting diversity in science; we have been awarded an Athena Swan Bronze Award. We positively welcome applications from underrepresented groups.

Funding Notes

This studentship is open to UK residents eligible for 'home' fee status and is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. It will cover tuition fees, and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 3 years at the Research Council rate (£17,285 in 2020/21).


- Williams et al. 2019. Bacteria are important dimethylsulfoniopropionate producers in coastal sediments. Nature Microbiology 4:1815-1825.
- Eyice et al. 2015. SIP-metagenomics identify Methylophilaceae as dimethylsulfide degrading bacteria in soil and lake sediment. The ISME J 9:2336-2348.
- Schäfer et al. 2010. Microbial degradation of dimethylsulfide and related C1-sulfur compounds: organisms and pathways controlling fluxes of sulfur in the biosphere. Journal of Experimental Botany. 61: 315-334. -
- Lomans et al. 1997. Microbial populations involved in cycling of dimethylsulfide and methanethiol in freshwater sediments. Applied and Environmental Microbiology.63:4741-4747.

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