Do cable bacteria produce different climate change gases in response to environmental changes.


Do cable bacteria produce different climate change gases in response to environmental changes.


Project Description


Professor Thomas Clarke, University of East Anglia – Contact me

Professor Thomas Clarke, University of East Anglia, School of Biological Sciences

Professor Julea Butt, University of East Anglia, Chemistry

Scientific background

Microbes known as cable bacteria grow vertically in 10cm filaments that span both the anoxic and oxic zones of aquatic sediments.  They uniquely make energy by coupling the oxidation of reduced compounds in the anoxic zone to the reduction of oxygen, and so are not restricted by the availability of oxidised compounds in the anoxic zone (1). This likely influences the physiology and metabolism of the local microbial community as well as biogeochemical cycling, but the nature of these effects have not yet been properly investigated. This is because these organisms were only identified by our collaborators at Aarhus university a decade ago.  Recently these bacteria were shown to be capable of producing important climate change gases nitrous oxide (N2O) and dimethylsulfide (DMS) and in our pilot studies we show the cable bacterium Candidatus electrothrix to be relatively abundant in diverse iron and sulfur rich coastal sediments throughout the year.  These abundances fluctuate over seasons, and are consistent with the relative abundances of other iron and sulfur species (2).

Research methodology

The student will establish methods to enrich and isolate cable bacteria in the UK, supported by our collaborators who are the world experts in this field.  They will study the relative abundance of different chemical species in sediments enriched for cable bacteria with sediments that have not been enriched.  This will allow the impact of these organisms to be accurately addressed across a range of scientific areas, including changes in distribution of the redox active elemental species such as nitrous oxide and dimethyl sulfoxide and the metagenomic distribution of other micro-organisms (3).


The student will spend several months at the ‘Centre for Electromicrobiology’ at Aarhus university (Denmark) learning to isolate and culture cable bacteria from coastal sediments.  At UEA training in environmental analysis of metals and different sulfur species will be provided in order to determine how the sediment composition is affected.  They will also learn environmental DNA extraction techniques and metagenomic sequencing methods to determine how the microbiome is affected by the active metabolism of these organisms.

Person specification

A person with a 2:1 or above in Microbiology or related discipline


  • 1 On the evolution and physiology of cable bacteria. Kjeldsen KU et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. (2019) 116:19116-19125
  • 2 Bacteria are important dimethylsulfoniopropionate producers in coastal sediments Williams, B. T et al. Nature Microbiology. (2019) 4, p.1815-1825 Bacteria are important dimethylsulfoniopropionate producers in coastal sediments Williams, B. T et al. Nature Microbiology. (2019) 4, p.1815-1825
  • 3 Role of multiheme cytochromes involved in extracellular anaerobic respiration in bacteria Edwards MJ et al. (2020) Protein Sci. 2019. doi: 10.1002/pro.3787

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2024. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 10th January 2024.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK. We expect to award between 4 and 6 studentships to international candidates in 2024.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.
  • ARIES funding is subject to UKRI terms and conditions. Postgraduate Researchers are expected to live within reasonable distance of their host organisation for the duration of their studentship. See for more information

Applications open

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