Defining new ways bacteria control environmental cycling of sulphur and carbon


Defining new ways bacteria control environmental cycling of sulphur and carbon


Project Description


Dr Matthew Sullivan, University of East Anglia – Contact me

Professor Jonathan Todd, University of East Anglia, School of Biology

Professor Charles Brearley, University of East Anglia, School of Biology

Scientific Background

The microbial world is a fascinating network of organisms that live in our environment and play significant roles in regulating our climate. The molecule dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP) is an anti-stress compound made by plants, algae and bacteria, in the order of hundreds of millions of tonnes annually, worldwide. DMSP protects organisms from harsh conditions found in diverse ecological niches. There is huge diversity in bacteria that make and degrade DMSP, however precisely when and why they do this is not well understood [1,2]. When DMSP is degraded, a climate-cooling gas called dimethylsulphide (DMS) is released that enters the atmosphere and forms cloud condensation nuclei, influencing atmospheric reflectivity and has vast potential to modulate the global climate [1]. A greater understanding of DMSP biology is of paramount importance for designing future strategies that exploit this molecule to reverse the effects of global warming.

This project will be hosted in the School of Biological Sciences at UEA, one of the world’s foremost centres of excellence for DMSP research. The individual will identify new genetic systems involved in DMSP metabolism and will make fundamental discoveries in the discipline of environmental microbiology.

Research Methodology

The project harnesses leading-edge genetic techniques to investigate bacterial DMSP biology. The individual will be first-in-the-world to use transposon-directed insertion sequencing [3,4,5] to identify entirely new genes and enzymes that act on DMSP. Analytical techniques will be coupled to powerful biomolecular assays. The individual will be co-located in the Sullivan and Todd labs in the School of Biological Sciences, with opportunities for collaboration with researchers further afield.


The individual will learn and independently develop techniques in environmental and molecular microbiology, including genetic manipulation, next-generation sequencing, bioinformatics, and biophysical analyses. There will be opportunities to present at internationally-leading conferences and access a network of global researchers. UEA’s post-graduate professional development team will provide support in enhancing translational skills.

Person Specification

We seek an enthusiastic and highly motivated individual with willingness to learn new concepts in molecular biology and/or microbiology to join our vibrant and collegiate community, including a degree (2:1 or higher) in the biological or environmental sciences disciplines.


  • 1 Curson A, Todd JD, Sullivan MJ and Johnston A. (2011) Catabolism of dimethylsulphoniopropionate: microorganisms, enzymes and genes. Nature Reviews Microbiology 9(12) 849-59
  • 2 Williams B, Todd JD (2019) A day in the life of marine sulfonates. Nature Microbiology 4(10)1610-1611.Williams B, Todd JD (2019) A day in the life of marine sulfonates. Nature Microbiology 4(10)1610-1611.
  • 3 Sullivan MJ*, Goh K, Ulett GC*(2022) Regulatory cross-talk supports resistance to Zn intoxication in Streptococcus. PLoS Pathogens 18(7)e1010607. *corresponding-author
  • 4 Goh K, Sullivan MJ*, Ulett GC* (2022) The copper resistome of Group B Streptococcus reveals insight into the genetic basis of cellular survival during metal ion stress. Journal of Bacteriology 204(5)e0006882. *corresponding-author
  • 5 Cain A, Barquist L, Goodman A, Paulsen I, Parkhill J, van Opijnen T (2020) A decade of advances in transposon-insertion sequencing. Nature Reviews Genetics 21 526-540

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 for more information

Applications open

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