Do trace gas oxidising bacteria help build soil on volcanic rock?


Do trace gas oxidising bacteria help build soil on volcanic rock?


Project Description


Dr Marcela Hernández García (University of East Anglia, School of Biological Sciences) – Contact me

Laura Lehtovirta-Morley, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Prof. Colin Murrell, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia


Project background

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.

Research methodology

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.

Person specification

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).


  • Hernández M, Vera-Gargallo B, Calabi-Floody M, King GM, Conrad R, Tebbe CC. Reconstructing genomes of carbon monoxide oxidisers in volcanic deposits including members of the class Ktedonobacteria. Microorganisms. 2020 Nov 27;8(12):1880. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms8121880
  • Hernández M, Calabi M, Conrad R, Dumont M. 2020b. Analysis of the microbial communities in soils of different ages following volcanic eruptions. Pedosphere. 30: 126-134. doi:10.1016/S1002-0160(19)60823-4.
  • Hernández M, Dumont MG, Calabi M, Basualto D, Conrad R. Ammonia oxidizers are pioneer microorganisms in the colonization of new acidic volcanic soils from South of Chile. Environ Microbiol Rep. 2014 Feb;6(1):70-9. doi: 10.1111/1758-2229.12109.
  • Radajewski S, Ineson P, Parekh NR, Murrell JC. Stable-isotope probing as a tool in microbial ecology. Nature. 2000 Feb 10;403(6770):646-9. doi: 10.1038/35001054.
  • King GM, Weber CF. Distribution, diversity and ecology of aerobic CO-oxidizing bacteria. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2007 Feb;5(2):107-18. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro1595. PMID: 17224920.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 11th January 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022/23) 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.
  • 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.

Applications are open

Apply now