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Unravelling the novel bacteriophage diversity in tropical rain forests (CENTA2-GENE1-MILL)

Project Description

Tropical rainforests are known to supply the greatest diversity of plants and animals on the planet, yet they only cover a very small percentage of the Earth`s surface. The most abundant living organisms on the planet are bacteria that drive all biogeochemical cycles. Despite the importance of rainforests as reservoirs of animal and plant diversity, virtually nothing is known of the microbial community found within them. Given the vast plant and animal diversity, it would be expected that microbial diversity will also be high. This project will focus on understanding the diversity of bacteriophages in the Belum (Malaysia) and Amazon rainforests.

Bacteriophages are viruses that specifically infect bacteria and are the most numerous biological entities on the planet. Bacteriophages are known to drive the evolution of the bacterial hosts and in other ecosystems directly influence the amount of C02 that is fixed.
Given the vast diversity of micro-environments within rainforests that drive plant speciation, the diversity of bacteria associated with these plants and co-occurring phages is also likely to be high. Understanding bacterial-plant interactions can be complex given the vast number of different bacterial and metabolic plasticity bacteria display. Bacteriophages often carry auxiliary metabolic genes that are used by the phage to augment host metabolism to maximise phage replication. These genes often overcome metabolic bottlenecks encountered by their bacterial hosts and point towards the most important limiting factor in an ecosystem. Amazingly they have not been examined in the rainforest and such genes may be of key importance to understand ecosystem function from a bottom up perspective.

Therefore by studying bacteriophages in rainforests, not only can we expand the known diversity of bacteriophages that is poorly sampled. We can begin to understand important factors in bacterial-plant interactions, as bacteriophages encode genes to overcome metabolic bottlenecks. Therefore, we hypothesise: phage associated with different plant species will harbour different auxiliary metabolic genes.

This project will use both culture-based and culture-independent methods to study bacteriophages from Belum rainforest and from the Amazon that are associated with hallmark plant species. The project will specifically investigate the viral communities in soil surrounding different plant species.

Further Reading:

Puxty, R. J. et al. (2015) ‘Shedding new light on viral photosynthesis’, Photosynthesis research. Springer Netherlands, 126(1), pp. 71–97.

Trubl, G. et al. (2018) ‘Soil Viruses Are Underexplored Players in Ecosystem Carbon Processing’, mSystems. doi: 10.1128/msystems.00076-18.

Entry Requirements:

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

Available for UK and EU applicants only

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility:

How to Apply:

Please follow refer to the How to Apply section at and use the Genetics Apply button to submit your PhD application.

Upload your CENTA Studentship Form in the proposal section of the application form.

In the funding section of the application please indicate you wish to be considered for NERC CENTA Studentship.

Under the proposal section please provide the name of the supervisor and project title/project code you want to apply for.

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of fully funded studentships available to the best UK and EU candidates available as part of the NERC DTP CENTA consortium.

For more details of the CENTA consortium please see the CENTA website: View Website.

Applicants must meet requirements for both academic qualifications and residential eligibility: View Website

The studentship includes a 3.5 year tuition fee waiver at UK/EU rates

An annual tax free stipend (For 2019/20 this is currently £15,009)

Research Training Support Grant (RTSG) of £8,000.

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