Laura Lehtovirta-Morley, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia
Prof. Colin Murrell, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
Volcanoes produce trace gases, such as methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2), contributing to Earth’s natural greenhouse effect. In volcanic deposits, microorganisms play a crucial role consuming trace gases and producing “early” organic carbon leading to soil formation. Understanding the mechanisms by which these microbes consume trace gases is important as this will determine the rate and nature of initial biomass formation, providing the foundation for the development of heterotrophic microbes, microbial turnover, plant growth and root exudation.
In this PhD project, you will determine the drivers influencing microbial colonisation of new volcanic soils and the importance of CO in supporting soil formation. You will investigate the microbial community composition, isolate microbes, study their physiology and mechanisms of metabolism of climate-active trace gases.
You will be answering these key questions: 1) How do microbes grow on volcanic deposits? and 2) How do these microbes contribute to the microbial food webs that ultimately lead to formation of organic matter on pristine volcanic rock deposits?
To answer these questions, you will join sampling campaigns in volcanoes in Chile followed by soil incubations and trace-gases measurements. You will be trained in cutting-edge tools for isolation and identification of microbes, including whole genome sequencing, metagenomics and bioinformatics.
You will receive training in experimental design and data analyses and will learn molecular microbial ecology techniques including DNA sequencing and metagenomics. You will cultivate and identify soil bacteria; perform quantitative PCR, amplicon-based sequencing (metagenetics), whole genome sequencing and (meta)genomic analysis. You will be able to enrol in soft-skills workshops (e.g. how to write a fellowship application, scientific writing) at the University of East Anglia. You will also present your results at weekly lab meetings, departmental seminars, at outreach events, and at national and international conferences.
We are looking for a highly motivated student willing to help with sampling campaigns in Chilean volcanoes and with background knowledge of basic microbiology techniques. The successful candidate will have a strong background in Microbial, Soil or Environmental Sciences (degree in Soil Microbiology, Environmental Microbiology, or similar).