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PhD Studentship: PhD Marine Sciences - Complex Relationships: Exploring the Role of the Diatom Microbiome in Host-parasite Interaction

University of Plymouth

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Devon, Plymouth
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £18,622 per annum (2023-24 rate)
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 1st November 2023
Closes: 10th January 2024

DoS: Professor Michael Cunliffe (micnli@mba.ac.uk)

2nd Supervisor: Dr Miriam Reverter (miriam.reverter@plymouth.ac.uk)

3rd Supervisor: Dr Katherine Helliwell, Marine Biological Association (katherine.helliwell@mba.ac.uk

Applications are invited for a 3.5 years PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 01 October 2024

Project Description 

Scientific background: Diatoms are a significant phytoplankton group. They fuel food webs and are major players in the global carbon cycle. Diatoms are particularly important in nutrient rich coastal waters and shelf seas. Despite our dependence on these critical components of the Earth system there is a limited understanding of marine diatom health and disease. A range of protists and some fungal parasites infect diatoms. Bacteria are also associated with diatoms as part of their microbiomes. At present we have a limited understanding of the role of bacterial microbiomes on parasite infection of marine diatoms. Given the importance of marine diatoms, it is critical that we now understand the relationship between marine diatoms, their bacterial microbiomes and parasite infection on their biomass and diversity, and establish the impacts on diatom ecosystem function, particularly their critical role in the marine carbon cycle.  

Research methodology: The project will study the interaction of bacterial microbiomes and infecting parasites on marine diatom heath and function. Diatoms will be sampled from the coastal marine waters off Plymouth, targeting infected and uninfected diatoms using laser capture microscopy. Bacterial microbiomes of individual infected and uninfected diatoms will be compared using confocal microscopy and DNA/RNA metabarcode sequencing. Isolated cultures of diatoms, parasites and microbiome bacteria will also be studied in controlled laboratory-based experiments in different combinations to determine the interactions and impacts of the different components, including carbon processing and metabolite profiling. 

Training will include: Fieldwork and sampling, including boat-based plankton sampling; Advanced microscopy, including laser capture and confocal; Metabolomics; Biomolecular techniques (e.g. DNA/RNA processing, PCR and sequencing); Bioinformatics analysis of metabarcode datasets including processing raw sequence data, data analysis, understanding and visualization, data stewardship; Science communication for academic and non-academic audiences, research publication writing. 

Person specification: The applicant should have an interest in combining working with microbial communities from the natural environment and microbial cultures in the laboratory. The project will include bringing together a range of approaches and techniques outlined above, combining solo work and also being part of a team. Desired degree subjects include biology, marine biology, microbiology, environmental science and marine science. 

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Professor Michael Cunliffe, micnli@mba.ac.uk

Eligibility and Funding

For further information on Eligibility and Funding, please click on the links below: 

To apply for this position please visit here

Please clearly state the name of the studentship that you are applying for on the top of your personal statement. 

Please see here for a list of supporting documents to upload with your application. 

For more information on the admissions process generally, please visit our How to Apply for a Research Degree webpage or contact the Doctoral College

The closing date for applications on 10th January 2024. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview after the deadline.

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