PhD Studentship: A Molecular Study of the Importance and Scale of Cyanobacterial DMSP Production

University of East Anglia - School of Biological Sciences

Start Date: October 2018

Supervisor: Dr David Lea-Smith

Project description: Introduction

Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is one of Earth’s most abundant organosulfur compounds. It is an anti-stress compound with key roles in global nutrient and sulfur cycling, signalling and climate. It was thought that only marine eukaryotes produce DMSP. However, we recently demonstrated that many marine heterotrophic bacteria also produce DMSP. Furthermore, we identified the first genes for DMSP synthesis in these bacteria.

One cyanobacterium, Trichodesmium erythraeum, also produces DMSP but lacks any known DMSP synthesis genes. Cyanobacteria are amongst the most abundant organisms on the planet, accounting for approximately a quarter of carbon fixation. If marine cyanobacteria synthesise DMSP then this would significantly expand global production of this compound. However, little is known about the environmental importance or scale of cyanobacteria in DMSP cycling and how or why cyanobacteria produce DMSP.

This exciting project will:

  • Determine whether DMSP is synthesised by a wide range of cyanobacteria.
  • Identify the pathway/genes involved in cyanobacterial DMSP production.
  • Study the importance of DMSP production in cyanobacteria and the environment.

Methodology

You will be trained how to grow and study the physiology and biochemistry of different cyanobacterial species. Using analytical chemistry, you will establish and characterise the cyanobacterial DMSP biosynthetic pathway. Training in genetics will allow you to isolate, validate and express the key DMSP synthesis genes to confirm their role in DMSP production. You will design experiments to discover if environmental conditions affect DMSP production, transcription of the DMSP synthesis genes, and the role of DMSP in environmentally important cyanobacteria. Using bioinformatics and molecular ecology tools, you will establish how widespread cyanobacterial DMSP production is and the abundance/diversity of the key genes in natural marine environments.

This project will help determine the role of marine cyanobacteria in the production of DMSP, a process central to sulfur biogeochemical cycling.

Training

You will receive exceptional training in DMSP biology, growth and genetic manipulation of cyanobacteria, molecular ecology and microbiology, bioinformatics and analytical chemistry, writing high-impact papers and presenting at international conferences. You will undertake research at both UEA and Essex, and learn good laboratory practice, quality assurance, and receive health and safety training.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 12/13 February 2018.

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

Person specification:

Acceptable first degree: Biological Sciences, Chemistry, and other relevant subjects.

Minimum entry requirement: 2:1 or equivalent.

Applicants from numerate disciplines without prior training in environmental sciences are encouraged to apply, and will be considered for an additional 3 months’ funding to allow them to attend relevant advanced taught courses.

Funding notes: Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources. 

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Type / Role:

PhD

Location(s):

South East England