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Peatland microbes and molecules: the chicken or the egg dilemma

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Project background: Peatlands are organic matter rich soils that provide countless benefits and ecological services. They represent the largest terrestrial carbon store, containing twice as much carbon as the entire forest biomass on this planet. When fully functioning, peatlands remove carbon from atmosphere, contributing to our efforts to reverse the effects of climate change. They are important to flood management and water filtration; over 70% of UK drinking water runs from upland peatland catchments. They act as a home for a diverse range of flora and fauna and represent an archive of our past.

Peatlands currently are under threat and, as a result of human activities such as afforestation as well as climate change, a large fraction of global peatlands are compromised; around 80% of UK’s peatlands alone are classified as damaged (2). Global efforts are therefore put in place to restore their original condition. In order to determine if the current restoration strategies are working, we need to understand the process of peat degradation and restoration at the molecular and microbial level. However, to date the relationship and/or synergies between the peatland molecules and microbes remains underdetermined. Is one driving the other?

The Bell group, in collaboration with researchers across UK, Canada and Sweden, are examining changes to peatlands on the molecular level, using the unique facilities offered by the School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh (which house a 800 MHz NMR spectrometer and a 12T FT-ICR mass spectrometer) and on the microbial-level using the world-class high-throughput sequencing facility, Edinburgh Genomics.

The overall aim of this studentship is to contribute towards uncovering causative relationships that govern peatland degradation and restoration. The major emphasis of the proposed PhD project is to examine the microbial composition of peat samples taken from sites across the UK, as well as, Sweden and Canada. The project will involve peat sampling followed by DNA/RNA extraction and metagenomics. Peat chemistry using a variety of techniques will also be examined. This exciting multidisciplinary project offers the possibility to uncover the true drivers of peatland health and how these affect ecosystem services they provide.

Requirements: In order to fulfil the requirements for the project we are seeking to recruit a highly motivated PhD student. This award suits a candidate with background and aptitude for biochemistry, microbiology and bioinformatics. The position is also open to those with analytical chemistry or ecology degrees and can be tailored to suit exceptional candidates. Knowledge of computer programming is highly desirable; the project will involve handling large data sets. The project offers the opportunity to become expert in an number of techniques suitable for a wide range of scientific career pathways.

Application process: In the first instance, informal enquiries (accompanied by a CV) should be directed to Dr Nicholle Bell ().

Formal applications are made through the University’s EUCLID system, as outlined here:
http://www.chem.ed.ac.uk/studying/postgraduate-research/applications-and-entry-requirements

The position will remain open until filled.

The School of Chemistry holds a Silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of our commitment to advance gender equality in higher education. The University is a member of the Race Equality Charter and is a Stonewall Scotland Diversity Champion, actively promoting LGBT equality. The University has a range of initiatives to support a family friendly working environment. See our University Initiatives website for further information. University Initiatives website: https://www.ed.ac.uk/equality-diversity/help-advice/family-friendly.

Funding Notes

This is a 36 month PhD studentship available to UK/EU citizens (UK residency is not required). The successful candidate should have or expect to obtain a 1st class or upper 2nd class undergraduate degree.

The position is fully funded and covers tuition fees and an annual stipend (starting at £15,009 per annum, based on RCUK rates).

References

(1) Natural England, Mapping values: vital nature of our uplands-an atlas liking environment and people, Natural England Report, 2009. (2) R. Lindsay et al., Peatbogs and carbon: a critical synthesis to inform policy development in oceanic peat bog conservation and restoration in the context of climate change, RSPB Report, 2010

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Chemistry?
(joint submission with University of St Andrews)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 43.30

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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