Professor Terry McGenity, University of Essex, School of Life Sciences
Dr Jamie Blaza, University of York
Climate change is a critical issue of our modern world, requiring a shift from fossil-fuels to green-energy. Understanding the intricate natural cycling of gases that affect our climate is crucial for predicting their current and future impact. Microbial cycling of key greenhouse gases, e.g. CO2/methane, is quite well understood. Much less is known about microorganisms that metabolize intermediates like CO and H2, connecting the cycles of CO2, methane, CO, and H2. Among life’s domains, archaea remain enigmatic due to limited genomic information and challenges in culturing. Anaerobic high-salinity environments represent widespread yet understudied habitats for recently discovered anaerobic haloarchaea. Their metabolic strategies, potentially involving specialized enzyme complexes, hold the key to understanding gas production and consumption, impacting our grasp of biogeochemical cycles, global warming, and climate change. Haloarchaeal consumption of H2 and CO2 may support their survival over geological time, and influence the management of salt caverns that are widely used for storage of H2 as a fuel. Additionally, anaerobic archaea offer biotechnological promise in biofuel production as well as discovery of new enzymes and metabolic pathways.
The research plan involves two main facets: enriching and identifying archaea in anoxic hypersaline environments (e.g. salt mines, salterns, deep-sea basins), and characterizing enzyme complexes related to H2/CO metabolism. Objectives encompass anaerobic sampling and cultivation, metagenomic analysis, bioinformatic identification, purifying enzyme complexes, producing enzyme complexes heterologously, and elucidating structures using electron cryomicroscopy (cryoEM).
Person Specification & Training
Applicants should displaying a keen interest in microbiology, biochemistry, or related fields, particularly in microbial roles in biogeochemical cycles. The PhD program offers multidisciplinary training in fieldwork, particularly sampling, and as lab-work, including microbiology, bioinformatics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and protein structure elucidation. The University of Essex serves as the primary location, with potential for cryoEM training at the University of York, and visits to sampling sites including Boulby salt mine. The supervisory team, comprising Dr. Birrell, Professor McGenity, and Dr. Blaza, combines expertise in protein biochemistry, microbiology/microbial ecology, and cryoEM.