PhD Studentship - How Important are Marine Bacteria in DMSP Cycling? (CASE Studentship with Plymouth Marine Laboratory) (TODD_UBIO18EE)

University of East Anglia - Biological Sciences

Start Date: October 2018

No. of positions available: 1

Supervisor: Dr Jonathan Todd

Project description: Introduction

Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is one of Earth’s most abundant organosulfur molecules. It is an anti-stress compound that was thought to be only produced by phytoplankton. However, we have shown that many marine bacteria also produce and consume DMSP and we have identified the key genes for both processes. When released into the environment, DMSP has important roles in global nutrient and sulfur cycling, signalling pathways and in climate, since DMSP catabolism can generate the climate-active gas dimethylsulfide (DMS). There are few molecular-genetic studies into DMSP synthesis by any organism or environment.

This exciting project will:

  • Explore the role of bacteria in DMSP cycling at a world-renowned sampling station in the English Channel.
  • Isolate and characterise the bacteria involved in DMSP cycling at this site.


You will use traditional oceanographic sampling combined with molecular ecology techniques, including gene-probing, metagenomics and metatranscriptomics, to study bacterial populations that both produce and catabolise DMSP in surface ocean samples from the English Channel ( over a year-long study. The expression and abundance of the key genes will also be assayed by PCR-based techniques. DMS, DMSP and synthesis intermediates will be analysed by chromatography and mass spectroscopy-based methods to quantify rates of DMSP synthesis and catabolism. You will combine geochemical and molecular approaches to identify key bacteria that produce and catabolise DMSP, identify the key genes and cognate biochemical pathways that contribute to the flux of these influential molecules. Incubation experiments with inhibitors will estimate the significance of bacteria in DMS/P production. Culture-dependent studies will be used to isolate model bacteria that make DMSP, enabling the investigation of conditions that affect DMSP production. This project will provide essential data to enable scientists to understand key biotransformations in the global sulfur cycle.


You will receive exceptional training in molecular ecology and microbiology, bioinformatics and analytical chemistry, writing high-impact papers and will give presentations at international conferences. You will undertake research at both UEA and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, gaining experience of working on-board a research ship during coastal marine fieldwork. You will 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

Person specification:

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

EnvEast welcomes applicants from quantitative disciplines who may have limited background in environmental sciences. Excellent candidates will be considered for an award of an additional 3-month stipend to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

Minimum entry requirement: 2:1 or equivalent.

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/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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