Microbial lignocellulose degradation in the environment (PRATSCHER_UENV17EE) - CASE studentship with Recyclatech Ltd.

University of East Anglia - School of Environmental Sciences

Start Date: October 2017

No. of positions available: 

Supervisor: Dr Jennifer Pratscher 

Project description:  We are looking for a highly motivated student to fill a 3.5-year PhD position, starting October 2017, to work on an EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership-funded project studying microbial lignin degradation in the environment.

Almost 20% of the total mass of the Earth comprises lignocellulosic biomass also known as dry plant matter, a mixture of organic molecules, containing mostly lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose. However, lignin is an extremely resistant polymer to degradation due to its complex structure and strong chemical bonds and makes the utilization of lignocellulosic biomass difficult. Microbial lignin breakdown through enzymes such as peroxidases or laccases creates a great potential of utilizing this abundant biomass for sourcing sugar for generation of useful biochemicals and biofuels. However, most work has been carried out on the role of fungi in lignin degradation with little work on their bacterial counterparts.

The central aim of this PhD project is to study and compare the activity of microbial lignin degradation in a variety of environments (including permafrost and forest soils, coastal and estuarine sediment), combining methods such as nucleic acid stable isotope probing (DNA/RNA-SIP) and next generation sequencing (meta-omics and bioinformatics) to link microbial physiology to ecosystem functioning. This will be supported by the use and investigation of pure cultures and enzyme assays. In particular, we want to determine the key microorganisms responsible in the various environments and their pathways for lignin degradation.

The successful PhD student will join a vibrant laboratory working on a variety of aspects of environmental microbiology. They will use a range of innovative methodology and cutting edge techniques in molecular and environmental microbiology. The project will therefore provide excellent multidisciplinary training and an exciting research opportunity to interact between the fields of molecular microbial ecology, biogeochemistry and microbial physiology. Further training and experience will be provided by our industrial partner Recyclatech Ltd. in Edinburgh, Scotland (including placement time of a total of 3 months).

For further details, please contact Dr Jennifer Pratscher (J.Pratscher@uea.ac.uk) or Dr Jonathan Todd (Jonathan.Todd@uea.ac.uk).

Person specification: An Honours degree (2:1 or higher) in Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Microbiology, Biochemistry, or similar related subject

Funding notes: This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 14/15 February 2017.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17, the stipend was £14,296.

For further information, please visit www.enveast.ac.uk/apply

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