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Identifying the missing enzyme(s) in the global nitrogen cycle (LEHTOVIRTA-MORLEYLU18RS)

Project Description

Archaea play vital roles in biogeochemical cycles and many other aspects of life on earth and yet they remain relatively uncharacterised. The subject of this PhD studentship are the ammonia oxidising archaea (AOA) which are among the most numerous living organisms on the Earth. They are key players in the global nitrogen cycle and balancing this cycle is vital for agriculture, food security and controlling climate change. The successful candidate will investigate the novel enzymes that catalyse ammonia oxidation in archaea. This step is responsible for enormous loss of nitrogen fertiliser, leading to environmental pollution and climate change. Understanding this novel biochemical step in AOA is an essential first step in reducing these processes which are detrimental to life on earth.

The PhD student will receive training in a wide range of cutting edge molecular, microbiological and biochemical techniques. The project includes working with pure cultures of AOA, isotopic labelling, cloning, heterologous expression and protein characterisation.

Applicants must have a 2:1 BSc or a Master’s degree (or equivalent) in Biological Sciences and a strong background in either biochemistry or molecular microbiology.

For informal inquiries and further information, email Laura Lehtovirta-Morley at

For more information on the supervisor on this project, please go here: https://www.uea.ac.uk/biological-sciences/people/profile/l-lehtovirta-morley

Type of programme: PhD

Project start date: October 2018

Mode of study: Full time

Studentship length: 4 Years

Entry requirements: Acceptable first degree - Biological Sciences related disciplines, including Microbiology, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry.
The standard minimum entry requirement is 2:1.

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD studentship is funded by the Royal Society (royalsociety.org). Funding is available to UK/EU applicants only and includes an annual stipend of £14,553.


i) Lehtovirta-Morley LE, Stoecker K, Vilcinskas A, Prosser JI, Nicol GW (2011) Cultivation of an obligate acidophilic ammonia oxidizer from a nitrifying acid soil. PNAS 108: 15892-15897.

ii) Lehtovirta-Morley LE, Ross J, Hink L, Weber, EB, Gubry-Rangin C, Thion C, Prosser JI, Nicol GW (2016) Isolation of ‘Candidatus Nitrosocosmicus franklandus’, a novel ureolytic soil archaeal ammonia oxidiser with tolerance to high ammonia concentration. FEMS Microbiol Ecol 92:fiw057.

iii) Lehtovirta-Morley LE, Sayavedra-Soto L, Gallois N, Schouten S, Stein LY, Prosser JI, Nicol GW (2016) Identifying potential mechanisms enabling acidophily in the ammonia-oxidizing archaeon 'Candidatus Nitrosotalea devanaterra'. Appl Environ Microbiol 82:2608-2619.

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