Dr Miriam Reverter, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth
Dr Katherine Helliwell, Marine Biological Association
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.
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.
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.