Professor Matt Hutchings (John Innes Centre)
Professor Colin Murrell (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia)
Nitrification is a central step in the global nitrogen cycle and a key driver of environmental change through its role in greenhouse gas emission and eutrophication. The nitrogen cycle is an essential ecosystem service with major impacts on the Earth’s climate and environments. Ammonia oxidising microorganisms play a critical role in nitrogen cycling in soil ecosystems. Ammonia oxidising microbes are amongst the most numerous living organisms on the planet and catalyse the initial and rate-limiting step in nitrification. Despite the immense importance of nitrifiers in diverse ecosystems, there are major knowledge gaps in our understanding of their metabolism and of their role in breaking down organic nitrogen compounds, such as urea and cyanate. This makes it hard to protect the resilience of ecosystem services and manage nitrogen losses from agricultural ecosystems, and this is a major challenge to global food security. This project will address critical gaps in our understanding of the physiology, ecology and activity of ammonia oxidising microbes in soils.
The student will determine the contribution and metabolism of ammonia oxidising microbes to the turnover of urea and cyanate in the environment. This represents an overlooked, missing link between the global biogeochemical nitrogen and carbon cycles.
The student will receive training in cutting-edge techniques in environmental molecular microbiology, including Dual Stable Isotope Probing, metagenomics, transcriptomics, bioinformatics, enzyme kinetics and microbial physiology. S/he will present their data at departmental seminars, at national and international conferences and at the annual Norwich Science Festival. The student will join the cohort of PhD students at UEA and attend training courses for research and transferable skills. The student will join the thriving molecular microbiology theme at UEA with >40 scientists whose research spans the biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen, carbon and sulphur. The project will be co-supervised by Matt Hutchings (JIC) and Colin Murrell (UEA).
This project is suited to candidates with a BSc or MSc degree in Microbiology-, Environmental Sciences- and Biochemistry-related disciplines.