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Small bugs - global effects: Microbial communication with consequences for climate functioning

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  • Full or part time
    Prof G. Pohnert
    Prof J Gershenzon
    Dr Marine Vallet
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Background: Algae produce massive amounts of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) that fuel the organosulfur cycle. On a global scale, several petagrams of this zwitterionic sulfur species are produced annually driving fundamental processes and the marine food web. Recently we reported the discovery of a new, structurally unusual zwitterionic metabolite dimethylsulfoxonium propionate (DMSOP) that is produced by several DMSP-containing microalgae and marine bacteria. The estimated annual oceanic production of oxidized sulfur from this novel pathway is in the teragram range thereby substantially contributing to the global biogeochemical sulfur cycling.1 This project aims to understand the physiological and ecological function of the metabolite in the complex plankton community.

Project Description: The project will focus on the interaction of microalgae and bacteria from the plankton with the overall aim to find out how production, release, and metabolism of the abundant zwitterionic metabolites regulate community composition. A combination of biological experiments on physiology and ecology of microorganisms of the plankton with elaborate analytical chemistry will allow monitoring production and fate of highly polar metabolites in plankton communities. The candidate will have the opportunity to work on advanced imaging mass spectrometers to resolve metabolite production characteristics down to a single-cell resolution.2 The project will also involve fieldwork in mesocosms or during research cruises that verify concepts developed in the laboratory in natural plankton communities.

Candidate profile: Two different candidate profiles can be envisaged for this project: 1) The successful candidate has a background in chemical analytics (preferably mass spectrometry) and a strong interest in ecological or microbiological processes. 2) The successful candidate has a background in microbiology or marine sciences and is interested in chemical approaches to unravel microbial interactions.

Reading (optional):

1. Thume, K., Gebser, B., Chen, L., Meyer, N., Kieber, D. J., Pohnert, G. (2018) The metabolite dimethylsulfoxonium propionate extends the marine organosulfur cycle. Nature 563, 412-415.
2. Vallet, M., Baumeister, T. U. H., Kaftan, F., Grabe, V., Buaya, A., Thienes, M., Svatos, A., Pohnert, G. (2019) The oomycete Lagenisma coscinodisci hijacks host -alkaloids synthesis during infection of a marine diatom. Nature Communications Article number: 4938.


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