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QUADRAT DTP: Investigating the relationship between soil microbiome diversity and resilience to stressors caused by a changing climate

School of Biological Sciences

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Prof C Creevey , Prof M-P Zorzano , Prof S Huws , Dr J Chin No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Microbiomes are highly sensitive to changes in their environments (nutrients, temperature, osmotic pressure, dry or humid environment, pH, etc.) and these stressors can affect their behaviour, activity and survival. In the soil microbiome this has a direct impact on nutrient availability and plant productivity. Investigating the limits of these environmental factors on the soil microbiome and their subsequent effects on the suitability of plant growth for human consumption will help us better understand how the diversity of this important microbiome is related to resilience to a changing environment. This is also key to astrobiology research into the best methods and technologies to establish the microbial biodiversity necessary to support safe and productive human space travel and settlements on the Moon and eventually Mars.

This project represents a novel collaboration between the Ecological and Evolutionary Genomics group in Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and the Planetary Sciences group in Aberdeen University (UoA). The successful candidate will be based in QUB School of Biological Sciences under the primary supervision of Prof Chris Creevey but will also spend time in UoA School of Geoscience under the primary supervision of Prof. Maria-Paz Zorzano.

The project will involve the design and implementation of experiments to apply stressors to the soil microbiome analogous to those expected during exceptional weather events in a changing climate and related to those experienced during space flight and in other planetary environments. We will monitor the biodiversity and metabolic responses to these stressors using the Metabolt(1) system designed by Profs. Zorzano and Martín-Torres and characterise the microbiome response using state of the art metagenomic sequencing. The sequence data will be used to analyse the effect of the stressors on the microbiome structure and function using the ecological and evolutionary approaches designed in the Creevey group(2). Finally, we will assess the micro-nutrient content of plants grown in these soils to assess the impact of changes in soil biodiversity on the suitability of the grown food for long-term human consumption.

This cross-disciplinary project will allow the candidate to gain a repertoire of highly sought skills in computational biology, microbiology and environmental measurements in controlled pressurised systems for Earth and space applications. While it is desirable that prospective students have some experience in one or more of these areas, training will be provided to fill any skill-gaps so candidates with a passion for the topic and a drive to learn new skills are encouraged to apply.

More project details are available here:

How to apply:

Note that applications should NOT be submitted directly to Queen’s.

Funding Notes

QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and international candidates (EU and non-EU). Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend/research & training support grant only.

Before applying please check full funding and eligibility information:


Nazarious, M.I., Zorzano, M.P. and Martín-Torres, J., 2020. Metabolt: An in-situ instrument to characterize the metabolic activity of microbial soil ecosystems using electrochemical and gaseous signatures. Sensors, 20(16), p.4479.

Rubino, F., Carberry, C., Waters, S.M., Kenny, D., McCabe, M.S. and Creevey, C.J., 2017. Divergent functional isoforms drive niche specialisation for nutrient acquisition and use in rumen microbiome. The ISME journal, 11(4), pp.932-944.
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