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Microbial influences on a carbonate rock formation

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Brasier
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

This multi-disciplinary project will help to reveal microbiological influences on carbonate rock (limestone) formation as may have happened early in Earth history. It is important to understand how carbonate rocks were formed in Precambrian times because of their importance in the ancient (and future?) global carbon cycle. We also need to understand microbe fossilisation processes to help in the search for ancient and extra-terrestrial microbial fossils. Various abiotic chemical mechanisms have been proposed for precipitation of carbonate rocks from marine and terrestrial waters, but recent field and laboratory studies have shown that microbes including cyanobacteria at least influence the process by locally changing the chemistry.

We now need to determine whether calcification is a process commonly caused by specific living microbes, or the result of breakdown of their dead cells or extracellular substances. To find this out the student will conduct laboratory experiments in flasks using a known strain of calcifying bacteria. Experiment results (precipitates and biofilms) will be compared microscopically and chemically with natural samples collected from calcifying streams. Experiment results will also be petrographically compared with Proterozoic rock specimens.

The student will gain skills in geomicrobiology, carbonate sedimentology, petrography and geochemistry, and will be helping in the search for ancient Precambrian and extra-terrestrial life. They will undertake fieldwork in the UK and perform the lab work.

Essential Background: Equivalent of 2.1 Honours Degree in Either microbiology or geology (with knowledge of carbonate sedimentology or inorganic geochemistry), potentially chemistry

Knowledge of: Could be a geologist with some biological or chemical knowledge, or a microbiologist with knowledge of either chemistry or geology

The other supervisors on the project are Professor G Paton (School of Biological Sciences), Dr H Weitz (School of Biological Sciences) and Dr S Bowden (School of Geosciences)

Funding Notes

The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for Tuition fees, living expenses and maintenance. Details of the cost of study can be found by visiting www.abdn.ac.uk. There is NO funding attached to this project. You can find details of living costs and the like by visiting http://www.abdn.ac.uk/international/finance.php.


• Brasier, AT. (2011). Searching for travertines, calcretes and speleothems in deep time: Processes, appearances, predictions and the impact of plants. Earth Science Reviews, vol 104, no. 4, pp. 213-239. DOI: 10.1016/J.EARSCIREV.2010.10.007

Pedley, H.M., M. Rogerson, and R. Middleton, The growth and morphology of freshwater calcite precipitates from in Vitro Mesocosm flume experiments; the case for biomediation. Sedimentology, 2009. 56, p. 511-527.

Freytet, P. & Verrecchia, E. 1998. Freshwater organisms that build stromatolites: a synopsis of biocrystallization by prokaryotic and eukaryotic algae. Sedimentology 45, 535-563.

This project is advertised in relation to the research areas of the discipline of Geoscience. Formal applications can be completed online: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply. You should apply for PhD in Geology, to ensure that your application is passed to the correct College for processing. Please ensure that you quote the project title and supervisor on the application form.

Informal inquiries can be made to Dr A Brasier ([email protected]) with a copy of your curriculum vitae and cover letter. All general enquiries should be directed to the Graduate School Admissions Unit ([email protected]).

How good is research at Aberdeen University in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 28.40

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

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