Who cycles DMSP in coastal waters and how?


Who cycles DMSP in coastal waters and how?


Project Description


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

Dr Ruth Airs, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Dr Frances Hopkins, Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Dr Simon Moxon, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia



Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is one of Earth’s most abundant organosulfur molecules. It is an anti-stress compound that is produced by many marine phytoplankton and bacteria. When released into the environment, DMSP has important roles in global nutrient and sulfur cycling, signalling pathways and in climate, since DMSP catabolism can generate the climate-active gas dimethylsulfide (DMS). In three recent Nature Microbiology publications we identified the key genes for DMSP synthesis in bacteria and phytoplankton, but no studies have used these new molecular tools to examine DMSP synthesis in any environment.

This project will:

–           Explore the role of microbes in DMSP cycling at a world-renowned sampling station in the English Channel using cutting edge molecular techniques.


You will use traditional oceanographic sampling combined with molecular ecology techniques, including gene-probing, metagenomics and metatranscriptomics, to study microbial populations that produce and catabolise DMSP in surface ocean samples from the English Channel (www.westernchannelobservatory.org.uk) over six-month study. The expression and abundance of the key genes will be assayed by PCR-based techniques. DMS and DMSP will be analysed by chromatography and mass spectroscopy-based methods to quantify rates of DMSP synthesis and catabolism. You will combine geochemical and molecular approaches to identify key microbes that produce and catabolise DMSP, identify the key genes and cognate pathways that contribute to the flux of these influential molecules. Culture-dependent studies on model microbes that make DMSP will enable the investigation of conditions that affect DMSP production. This project will provide essential data to enable scientists to better understand key biotransformations in the global sulfur cycle.


You will receive exceptional training in molecular ecology and microbiology, bioinformatics, analytical chemistry, ecosystem modelling and in writing publications and will give presentations at international conferences. You will undertake research at UEA and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, gaining experience of working on-board a research ship during coastal marine fieldwork. You will learn good laboratory practice, quality assurance, and receive health and safety training.

Person specification

We require a committed individual keen to master a wide range of techniques on this multidisciplinary project, who has experience in some of the key components.


  • 1. Curson ARJ, Todd, JD, Sullivan MJ and Johnston AWB (2011). Catabolism of dimethylsulfoniopropionate: microorganisms, enzymes and genes. Nature Reviews Microbiology 9: 849-859.
  • 2. Curson ARJ, Liu J, Bermejo Martínez A, Green RT, Chan Y, Carrión O, Williams BT, Zhang SH, Yang GP, Page PCB, Zhang XH, Todd JD (2017). Dimethylsulphoniopropionate biosynthesis in marine bacteria and identification of the key gene in this process. Nature Microbiology. 2:17009.
  • 3. Curson ARJ, Williams BT, Pinchbeck BJ, Sims LP, Martínez AB, Rivera PPL, Kumaresan D, Mercadé E, Spurgin LG, Carrión O, Moxon S, Cattolico RA, Kuzhiumparambil U, Guagliardo P, Clode PL, Raina JB, Todd JD. (2018). DSYB catalyses the key step of dimethylsulfoniopropionate biosynthesis in many phytoplankton. Nature Microbiology. 4: 430-439.
  • 4.Williams BT, Cowles K, Bermejo Martínez A, Curson ARJ, Zheng Y, Liu J, Newton-Payne S, Hind AJ, Li CY, Rivera PPL, Carrión O, Liu J, Spurgin LG, Brearley CA, Wagner-Mackenzie B, Pinchbeck BJ, Peng M, Pratscher J, Zhang XH, Zhang YZ, Murrell JC and Todd JD. (In press, 2019) Bacteria are important producers of dimethylsulfoniopropionate in coastal sediments. Nature Microbiology.
  • 5. Archer, Stephen D., Jacqueline Stefels, Ruth L. Airs, Tracy Lawson, Timothy J. Smyth, Andrew P. Rees, and Richard J. Geider. "Limitation of dimethylsulfoniopropionate synthesis at high irradiance in natural phytoplankton communities of the Tropical Atlantic." Limnology and Oceanography 63, no. 1 (2018): 227-242.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.
  • 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 (see https://www.aries-dtp.ac.uk/supervisors/additional-funding/).
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit https://senss-dtp.ac.uk/aries-senss-joint-studentship, or contact SeNSS.dtp@uea.ac.uk.

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