The role of zinc in the adaptation of diatoms to conditions of polar oceans


The role of zinc in the adaptation of diatoms to conditions of polar oceans


Project Description


Professor Thomas Mock (School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia) – Contact me

Professor Cock van Oosterhout (UEA, ENV)

Dr Glen Wheeler (The Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom)

Prof. Naihao Ye (Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences)


Project Background

Diatoms are the main primary producers in polar oceans, where photosynthesis is largely limited by seasonal fluctuation in light, temperature, and the extent of sea ice. Additionally, essential trace metals such as iron and zinc play an important role in controlling the biomass of polar primary producers. Polar diatoms appear to have a particularly high demand for zinc, thereby largely determining zinc distribution throughout the global ocean. The reason for the enhanced requirement of zinc in polar diatoms remains enigmatic. However, the first genome sequences from a polar diatom and other cold-adapted algae revealed adaptive expansions of regulatory gene families (e.g. transcription factors) containing zinc-binding domains. The elevated concentrations of zinc in polar oceans may thus have aided the expansion of these regulatory genes with zinc-binding domains. As specific gene families involved in photosynthesis and carbon fixation were both co-expanded and co-expressed, it suggests that zinc plays an important role in regulating and therefore supporting photosynthetic growth in polar phytoplankton.

Research methodology

The main aim of this project is to produce the first molecular genetics and physiological data on the role of zinc in the adaptation of cold-adapted diatoms. The student will work in the laboratory with a cold-adapted model diatom and will apply the latest reverse genetics tools (e.g. CRISPR-Cas) in combination with sequencing (RNA/DNA) and photosynthesis measurements to characterize the role of conserved low-temperature inducible regulatory genes with zinc-binding domains (e.g. zf-MYND) that are co-regulated with photosynthesis genes. A combination of these experimental approaches will provide first insights into the role of zinc-binding domains in supporting photosynthesis in polar marine microalgae.


The student will gain skills in the latest reverse-genetics tools such as CRISPR-Cas and sequence analyses, algal cultivation, photosynthesis measurements, bioinformatics, and evolutionary biology. Training will also be provided in the field of biogeochemistry, polar ecology, and oceanography.

Person specification

A Bachelor’s degree in Biological Science or equivalent. We are looking for an enthusiastic student who is excited about applying diverse techniques from the field of molecular microbiology to understand the adaptation and evolution of microalgae in polar oceans.


  • 1) Faktorová et al. (2020) Genetic tool development in marine protists: Emerging model organisms for experimental cell biology. Nature Methods 17, 481-494
  • 2) Mock et al. (2017) Evolutionary genomics of the cold-adapted diatom Fragilariopsis cylindrus. Nature 541, 536-540.
  • 3) Roshan, S., DeVries, T., Wu, J., and Chen, G. (2018). The Internal Cycling of Zinc in the Ocean. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 32, 1833-1849.
  • 4) Vance, D., Little, S.H., de Souza, G.F., Khatiwala, S., Lohan, M.C., and Middag, R. (2017). Silicon and zinc biogeochemical cycles coupled through the Southern Ocean. Nature Geoscience 10, 202.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2022.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to 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. 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 in the subject area.
  • 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 click on the “Apply now” link below.
  • 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