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Staying fed when you’re in hot water: nutrient acquisition by hyperthermophiles in low-nutrient environments

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr J Chin, Prof J Mcgrath  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Exploring how novel nutrient acquisition processes allow hyperthermophilic organisms to survive in low-nutrient environments, and how these affect the wider microbial community

All living things must obtain nutrients for growth and reproduction, particularly carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. For organisms in nutrient-rich environments this is easy, but many environments are oligotrophic; they have very low levels of nutrients. The oceans are a well-studied oligotrophic environment, and many microbial strategies for sustaining nutrient needs in the oceans have been characterised. In contrast, hyperthermophilic environments like hot springs are also oligotrophic, but the nutrient metabolism behaviours of microbes in these springs are very poorly characterised. For example, phosphate levels can be in the nanomolar range – similar to the oceans – but cultured hyperthermophilic organisms lack common organic phosphorus degradation pathways and do not have characterised genes for producing phosphorus storage granules. Despite this, they often have homologs of a bacterial gene for degrading phosphorus storage granules. This suggests that these organisms have evolved their own enzymes for nutrient acquisition and storage, which will play important roles in the biogeochemistry of these environments, and which may have useful biotechnological applications.

This project aims to explore nutrient metabolism in hyperthermophilic organisms to determine how they are able to obtain and process the nutrients they need for survival. Bioinformatic screens will indicate model organisms to grow in the lab which lack common nutrient cycling genes. The growth of these hyperthermophiles with a range of nutrients will be analysed through (bio)chemical, enzymatic, and molecular techniques to characterise their nutrient behaviours and the genes/proteins involved.

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Duration: 3 years

How to apply: Applications must be submitted via

Skills/experience required: Have or be about to obtain a BSc Hons. (2:1 or higher) in Microbiology, Biochemistry, or a related field. A Master’s degree in Microbiology, Biochemistry, or a related field is desirable but not required.

Note: This project is in competition for DfE funding with a number of other projects. A selection process will determine the strongest candidates across the range of projects, who may then be offered funding for their chosen project.

Funding Notes

Candidates must hold a UK 2.1 Bachelor's degree or qualifications considered to be equivalent by the University.
Candidates must also be normally resident in the UK for the three year period prior to 1 October 2022. For non-EU nationals, the main purpose of residence must not have been to receive full-time education. Non-UK or Irish nationals must also have pre-settled or settled status (EU nationals) or settled status (non-EU nationals).
Full eligibility criteria:
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