Understanding how production of DMSP by plants affects global sulfur cycling


Understanding how production of DMSP by plants affects global sulfur cycling


Project Description


Dr Ben Miller, University of East Anglia – Contact me

Professor Jonathan Todd, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Professor David Oram, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Scientific background

Billions of tonnes of the organosulfur compound dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) are made each year by marine algae, corals and bacteria. DMSP is a key marine nutrient pivotal in global sulfur cycling, as it is the main precursor of the climate-active gas dimethylsulfide (DMS), which gives the seaside its distinctive smell. Some plant species also make DMSP, and, although DMSP is established as an anti-stress molecule in marine algae and bacteria, its role in plants is less well understood. DMSP production is thought to allow plants to tolerate conditions associated with growing in stressful environments, e.g. the coast. Some plants produce DMSP at very high levels, including the cordgrass Spartina, which is reported to be the major DMSP producer in saltmarshes that are global hotspots for DMSP/DMS production. Using Spartina, we have recently discovered the first genes responsible for DMSP production in plants. Determining the overall contribution of plants to DMSP/DMS production is key to understand sulfur cycling in the natural environment.

Research methodology

In this project, we will explore how DMSP produced by plants affects their growth and survival in the natural environment. The student will evaluate DMSP production in plants grown under different environmental conditions using established analytical techniques, e.g. gas chromatography. They will also build on our recent work identifying DMSP synthesis genes and test how manipulation of these genes can be used to alter DMSP levels in plants.


This multi-disciplinary project will offer the student excellent training opportunities in diverse aspects of cutting-edge research in plant biology (including plant physiology and stress biology), bioinformatics, and the molecular biology and biochemistry of DMSP/DMS. Furthermore, the student will receive training in data analysis and manuscript preparation, whilst also having regular opportunities to present their work at national and international meetings.

Person specification

We are looking for a highly motivated applicant with strong interests in plant biology, molecular biology, biochemistry and the natural environment, and who can thrive in a multi-disciplinary research laboratory. Candidates should have a background in biological or environmental sciences, and require a minimum of a 2:1 Bachelor degree.



  • 1 Carrión et al. (2023) Advances in Microbial Physiology. doi:10.1016/bs.ampbs.2023.03.001
  • 2 Peng et al. (2022) Nature Communications. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-30491-5Peng et al. (2022) Nature Communications. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-30491-5
  • 3 Williams et al. (2019) Nature Microbiology. doi:10.1038/s41564-019-0527-1
  • 4 Feike et al. (2019) Plant Biotechnology J. doi:10.1111/pbi.13135
  • 5 Curson et al. (2017) Nature Microbiology. doi:10.1038/nmicrobiol.2017.9

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 https://www.ukri.org/publications/terms-and-conditions-for-training-funding/ for more information

Applications open

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