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The net effect of microbial siderophores on above- and belowground soil health.

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Penryn
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: BBSRC SWBio DTP funded CASE studentship available for September 2022 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,609 per annum for 2022-23, on a full time basis.
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 22nd October 2021
Closes: 6th December 2021
Reference: 4277

The production of mine waste comes at great socio-economic and environmental costs. There is a clear need for sustainable strategies that allow for rapid recovery of mining sites with minimal intervention. 

While researchers have started using microbes to clean up mine waste, they have mainly done so in the context of single species. But this is too simplistic: microbes work much better as a community in a division of labour. When different species work together to detoxify metals, this is predicted to improve remediation. However, not all individuals might pay their fair share and cheat the system. This classic problem is well understood in evolutionary biology for single species, but not at the community level. This project aims to understand the conditions under which different species and individuals work together to detoxify metals by focusing on a key social trait: siderophores.   

Microbes release siderophores into the environment in response to metal stress, where they bind metals and prevent them from being taken up and killing cells. Because detoxification takes place outside of the cell, the system is open to the invasion of ‘cheats’. Community-wide siderophore levels are thus shaped by a balance between local detoxifying benefits and costs associated with exploitation. The first major aim of the project is to determine how theoretically important variables - notably tilling and fertiliser - affect siderophore production and detoxification.    

Siderophores not only play a key role in driving social interactions between microbes, but also in plant-microbe feedbacks. These feedbacks are ubiquitous and a crucial determinant of their combined functioning. For example, plants and microbes produce signals that affect each other’s behaviour, often to mutual benefit. However, we have little understanding of how these interactions are affected by cooperation and conflict within the interacting microbial communities. The second aim is to determine how siderophore-based cooperation in the rhizosphere affects the efficacy of phytoremediation, which relies on the synergistic action between plants and microbes to clean up toxic metal waste.     

We will achieve these aims using a highly interdisciplinary approach. Depending on the preference of the candidate, these will include theory (Kuijper, Gardner), microbiology (Buckling, Hesse), metal chemistry (Hudsen-Edwards), soil biology (Hudsen-Edwards, Buckling, Hesse), and plant physiology (Sanchez Vilas, Hesse).  

Eligibility 

To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet both the academic and residence criteria. 

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover 

  • a stipend* at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £15,609 per annum for 2022-23
    •    research and training costs 
    •    tuition fees (at the standard Research Councils UK rate) 
    •    additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship 

Please refer to the regulations or Annex 1 of the Research Council Training Grant Guide to confirm that you meet the residence criteria for a fully-funded studentship.  Any further queries in relation to residency must be directed to the institution that you are applying to. 

* An enhanced stipend is available for students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£24,090 per annum for 2022-2023). There may also be enhanced stipends associated with projects that have a CASE partner (CASE projects are highlighted as *CASE in the project lists). 

The award: 

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP). 

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