|Funding for:||UK Students, EU Students|
|Funding amount:||£15,609 per annum|
|Placed On:||25th October 2021|
|Closes:||10th January 2022|
Microalgae are an incredibly diverse and ubiquitous group of photosynthetic organisms which provide more than half of the oxygen on Earth and are responsible for most of the primary production in oceanic and freshwater ecosystems. Many model species are intensively studied in laboratories to shed light on fundamental scientific questions, and many more are used in biotechnology processes to produce a myriad of high valued compounds.
The academic and applied interest in microalgae has driven the development of molecular tools and techniques for their genetic transformation. However, whilst synthetic biology-related tools have developed fast, the availability of suitable genetic elements is limited compared to well-established models such as E. coli, yeast, and mammalian cells. In the oceans, microalgae frequently interact with viruses, viral infections impact species turnover, nutrient recycling, the fate of algalblooms, and the transfer of genetic information. The co-evolutionary arms race between viruses and bacteria has been intensively investigated for a long time and has, for example, lead to the discovery of the CRISPR/Cas9 bacterial immune system.
Despite their ecological and economic relevance, very little is known about how microalgae counteract viral infections. Although a wide range of microalgal laboratory cultures are available, we are yet to discover viruses for many of them. In this project, the PhD student will identify novel algal viruses and characterise host-virus interactions, with an emphasis on (1) the interaction between the virus and the cell membrane, (2) the microalgae physiological response at the cellular and population level, and (3) the identification of genetic elements from the virus (such as promoters, leading sequence, terminator) that may be used in synthetic biology applications.
We aim to characterise newly isolated viruses (from our own isolations in project, and those available from collaborator’s collections) of key algal species to understand the microalgae-microalgae, microalgae-virus, virus-virus interactions during the infection process: Do microalgae have an immune - antiviral - system and if so, how does it impact viral infection? Furthermore, we expect that outputs from the above research questions - the discovery of new viruses, or the molecular compounds from an immune response - can have tremendous benefit and value for research and industry.
The environmental sampling of natural seawater will be performed at PML’s Western Channel Observatory. Seawater samples will be filtered, fractionated and/or concentrated and used to infect selected microalgal strains under laboratory conditions. Infection experiments will be performed in controlled temperature rooms in both solid and liquid media. When culture lysisis observed, potential viral particles will be characterised using techniques such as flow cytometry and genomics. In parallel, we will characterise newly discovered and isolated viruses from key algal species, including diatoms. Infection experiments will then be reproduced for physiological studies: virus capsid structure and host-virus membrane interaction will be investigated by high-speed Atomic Force Microscopy; viral modulation of hosts’ gene expressions and metabolic pathways will be studied by metabolomics and transcriptomics.
For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprise:
We seek a highly motivated candidate with interests in molecular biology, bioinformatics, virology and marine sciences.
Type / Role: