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QUADRAT DTP: Microbial social lives: A multi-scale systems approach to decode microbial metabolic networks

Project Description

Methane (CH4), a potent greenhouse gas, is next only to CO2 with a global warming potential of 34. Microbes play an integral role in global CH4 cycling and it is well-established methanogenic archaea produce methane under anoxic conditions, while aerobic methane-oxidizing bacteria (MOB) present in the oxic-anoxic interface consume methane to limit emissions into the atmosphere. Aerobic MOBs can use methane as a sole carbon and energy source and have been studied extensively for their role in the global methane cycle, biotransformation of halogenated hydrocarbons and valorisation of methane to biofuels and other platform chemicals.

Previously, our work has studied the ecophysiology of MOB in different environments e.g. chemosynthetic caves, landfills and rice paddies. However, little is known about how these environmentally important bacteria interact with other microbial communities (e.g. sulfur/phosphorus cycles).

This project will use a model chemosynthetic cave ecosystem (Movile Cave, Romania to develop a multi-scale systems approach to understand how eco-evolutionary adaptations and the environment (geochemistry/hydrogeology) constrain microbial interactions.

Specifically, the student will use:
i) molecular ecology tools (i.e. stable isotope probing enabled metagenomics/proteomics) to track isotopes within the microbial communities to identify metabolic networks.
ii) Genome-resolved metagenomics alongside isolation of novel MOB to study eco-evolutionary adaptations.
iii) Synthetic communities and CRISPR-mediated genome engineering strategies to study microbial interactions.
iv) State-of-the-art in situ monitoring of environmental conditions, including geochemical tools to identify metal speciation and hydrogeological base surveys to build a comprehensive framework of the subsurface physical environment.

The student will be trained in molecular ecology, microbial physiology, bioinformatics, geochemistry/hydrogeophysics tools at QUB by Kumaresan and Doherty and at Aberdeen by Comte. This project will involve collaboration with Dr Alexandra Hillebrand-Voisculescu (Emil Racovita Institute of Speleology, Bucharest, Romania) and Dr Hendrik Schaefer (University of Warwick, Coventry, UK).

Start date:

1 October 2020


42 months


Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.

Application procedure:

• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select ‘Visit Website’ to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.


How good is research at Queen’s University Belfast in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.40

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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