Professor Thomas Mock, ENV, UEA
Professor Cock Van Oosterhout, School of ENV, UEA
Dr Glen Wheeler, MBA, Plymouth
Emiliania huxleyi (Ehux) is a dominant species of coccolithophores, which are calcifying microalgae that have influenced global climate for millions of years. Recent observations show that Ehux is expanding its range into both polar oceans likely driven by global warming. The poleward expansion of Ehux raises serious concerns because it’s increase in abundance relative to non-calcifying phytoplankton (e.g. diatoms) will have important effects on the polar carbon cycle and climate feedbacks. However, the reasons for poleward expansions of Ehux are unclear. Thus, the main aim is to understand how Ehux is able to invade polar oceans. The genetic and epigenetic adaptations that enable polar invasions are largely unknown for any species. Yet, this is one of the most fundamental and important questions facing biologists studying the impacts of climate change to date.
Polar and non-polar strains of Ehux will be used to identify differences in their physiological plasticity and genes involved in the adaptation to polar conditions. The student will combine experimental work at UEA, population genomics analyses and fieldwork in the Southern Ocean. RNA sequencing of laboratory strains grown under temperate vs polar conditions accompanied by physiological measurements (e.g. growth rates, calcifying activity) will identify genes required for polar invasion and their associated phenotypes, respectively. To test the “polar-adaptation” potential of genes upregulated under polar conditions (e.g. low temperature), the student will compare the nucleotide substitution patterns of these genes with neutral reference genes. Population genomics analysis with meta-omics data of natural Ehux populations across polar frontal zones in the Southern and Arctic Oceans allows the student to identify if the Ehux gene pools are temporarily stable, or whether there is evidence of a poleward shift in range expansion.
A combination of experimental work, bioinformatics and field-based research that is highly integrative. Student will receive a broad set of skills based on the latest ‘omics’ tools and associated analysis pipelines, laboratory skills with microbes and skills required to conduct oceanographic ship-based field work.
2:1 Bachelor degree in Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Evolution. We are looking for an enthusiastic individual who is excited about microbes and climate change.