University of Portsmouth Featured PhD Programmes
Anglia Ruskin University ARU Featured PhD Programmes

Microorganisms entombed in Polar ice – assessing the potential emergence of new diseases (Ref: SF20/APP/PEARCE1)

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
Prof D Pearce Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The melting Polar Ice caps and receding glaciers worldwide are resulting in the emergence of microorganisms entombed in the ice for considerable periods of time. A famous example is the frozen graves of the 1918 pandemic Spanish flu victims on Svalbard, perhaps the best known natural reservoir of this deadly virus, which killed over a third of the world’s population. As ice-encased material slowly melts, microorganisms will be released that may have either beneficial or harmful effects on both the environment and the human population. Recently, we have been studying the types of microorganisms that are likely to emerge from this secretive gene pool (Figure 1a) and are looking at ways to both harness their potential and mitigate any potential threat; however, most of the expanse of this remote frozen region remains largely unexplored.
This work will focus on Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean (Figure 1b). In this project, we would investigate the dynamics of the melting cryosphere from a microbiological perspective. It would help determine which species may have already emerged and which ones are likely to emerge from the ice, assess their potential impact on the present biosphere, examine how they have adapted to survive in such extremes and determine which potential refugia might have enabled them to survive and re-emerge from such extended periods of freezing. The project will develop skills in microbiology, molecular ecology, bioinformatics, biogeography, polar fieldwork and life in extreme environments. It will form part of the microbial ecology group at Northumbria University and contribute to an international network investigating long distance aerobiological transfer and its potential relationship with human health.
The project will require fieldwork in the Arctic, for which funding can be provided.

Eligibility and How to Apply:
Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications should include a covering letter that includes a short summary (500 words max.) of a relevant piece of research that you have previously completed and the reasons you consider yourself suited to the project. Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. SF20/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 1st July for October start, or 1st December for March start
Start Date: October or March
Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality

For enquiries, contact Prof David Pearce ([Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

Please note, this is a self-funded project and does not include tuition fees or stipend; the studentship is available to Students Worldwide. Fee bands are available at . A relevant fee band will be discussed at interview based on project running costs


Chiara Borsetto; Gregory C.A. Amos; Ulisses Nunes da Rocha; Alex L. Mitchell; Robert D. Finn; Rabah Forar Laidi; Carlos Vallin; David A. Pearce; Kevin K. Newsham; Elizabeth M.H. Wellington (2019). Microbial community drivers of PK/NRP gene diversity in selected global soils. Microbiome MBIO-D-18-00868R1.

Wojcik, R., Donhauser, J., Holm, S., Malard, L., Holland, A., Frey, B., Wagner, D., Pearce, D., Anesio, A. & Benning, L. (2019) Linkages between geochemistry and microbiology in a proglacial terrain in the High-Arctic. Annals of Glaciology. 59 (77). pp. 95-110. ISSN 1727-5644.

Kleinteich, Julia, Puddick, Jonathan, Wood, Susanna, Hildebrand, Falk, Laughinghouse IV, H., Pearce, David, Dietrich, Daniel, Wilmotte, Annick. (2018) Toxic cyanobacteria in Svalbard: chemical diversity of microcystins detected using a liquid chromatography mass spectrometry precursor ion screening method. Toxins, 10. 15 pp. 10.3390/toxins10040147.

Kleinteich, Julia, Hildebrand, Falk, Bahram, Mohammad, Voigt, Anita Y., Wood, Susanna A., Jungblut, Anne D., Küpper, Frithjof, Quesada, Antonio, Camacho, Antonio, Pearce, David A., Convey, Peter, Vincent, Warwick, Zarfl, Christiane, Bork, Peer, Dietrich, Daniel R. (2017). Pole-to-pole connections: Similarities between Arctic and Antarctic microbiomes and their vulnerability to environmental change. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. 5, 137.

Yew, Wen Chyin, Pearce, David, Dunn, Michael James, Adlard, Stacey, Alias, Siti Aisyah, Samah, Azizan Abu and Convey, Peter (2017) Links between bacteria derived from penguin guts and deposited guano and the surrounding soil microbiota. Polar Biology. 41 (2) 269-281.

Yew, Wen Chyin, Pearce, David, Dunn, Michael J., Samah, Azizan Abu and Convey, Peter (2017) Bacterial community composition in Adélie (Pygoscelis adeliae) and Chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarctica) Penguin stomach contents from Signy Island, South Orkney Islands. Polar Biology. 40 (12), 2517-2530.

Redeker, K.R., Chong, J.P.J., Aguion, A., Hodson, A and Pearce DA (2017). Microbial metabolism directly affects trace gases in (sub) polar snowpacks. Journal of the Royal Society Interface. 14, 137, 20170729.

Aguirre de Cárcer, Daniel, Pedrós-Alió, Carlos, Pearce, David and Alcami, Antonio (2016) Composition and interactions among bacterial, microeukaryotic and T4-like viral assemblages in lakes from both polar zones. Frontiers in Microbiology, 7 (337). ISSN 1664-302X.

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2021
All rights reserved.