The cycling of typical marine organosulfur compounds in unexpected places


The cycling of typical marine organosulfur compounds in unexpected places


Project Description


Prof Jonathan Todd, University of East Anglia, School of Biological Sciences – Contact Me

Dr Ben Miller, UEA, BIO

Dr Francis Hopkins, PML

Scientific background:

Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is known as a marine anti-stress compound made by marine algae and bacteria. It has key roles in global nutrient and sulfur cycling, signalling, and microbial DMSP catabolism releases climate-active gases (CAG), notably dimethylsulfide (DMS). However, DMSP is also produced by many terrestrial plants, including wheat that is farmed on >200 million hectares globally, and is found at appreciable levels in wheat rhizosphere samples. Little is known about microbial DMSP catabolism in terrestrial plant settings and key questions remain unanswered, e.g., what microbes degrade plant-made DMSP, which pathways do they use and what is their impact on CAG production?


This multidisciplinary PhD will address these unknowns by working on wheat cropped in East Anglia. The individual will conduct a seasonal field-study of DMSP production and cycling on wheat plantations. DMSP production, accumulation, microbial catabolism and CAG flux will be investigated at the process (using e.g., gas chromatography and autonomous DMS sensors) and molecular (using e.g., RT-qPCR) levels in/from plant tissue and soils – to explore their environmental significance. To complement this process-led work, the PhD will conduct culture-dependent (isolation and characterisation of model organisms) and -independent microbiology (e.g., DNA-stable isotope probing) to identify microbes importing and catabolising DMSP as a nutrient in wheat samples, their biodiversity, the pathways used, the CAG liberated and how environmental changes impact these. Finally, they will be encouraged to develop the project to their interests, e.g., to investigate any plant growth promoting effects of microbial isolates or novel DMSP cycling genes.


You will join the productive and well-resourced teams of Todd and Miller at UEA and Hopkins at PML, and receive exceptional interdisciplinary training spanning DMSP biology, molecular ecology and microbiology, plant physiology, bioinformatics, analytical chemistry, fieldwork and in scientific writing and presentation. You will present your findings at weekly team meetings, (inter)national conferences, and in peer-reviewed scientific publications and your PhD thesis.

Person specification

We require a motivated and innovative individual keen to master a wide range of techniques within our team studying DMSP biology. You require a background in micro/biology and a degree.


  • Todd JD, Rogers R, Li YG, Wexler M, Bond PL, Sun L, Curson ARJ, Malin G, Steinke M & Johnston AWB. (2007). Structural and regulatory genes required to make the gas dimethyl sulfide in bacteria. Science, 315 (5812): 666-669.
  • Curson ARJ, Todd, JD, Sullivan MJ and Johnston AWB (2011). Catabolism of dimethylsulfoniopropionate: microorganisms, enzymes and genes. Nature Reviews Microbiology, 9: 849-859.
  • 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 & Todd JD. (2019). Nature Microbiology, 4 (11), 1815-1825.
  • Liu J, Xue CX, Wang J, Crombie AT, Carrión O, Johnston AWB, Murrell JC, Liu J, Zheng Y, Zhang XH & Todd JD. (2022). Oceanospirillales containing the DMSP lyase DddD are key utilisers of carbon from DMSP in coastal seawater. Microbiome 10 (1): 1-21.
  • Hopkins, F. E., Nightingale, P. D., Stephens, J. A., Moore, C. M., Richier, S., Cripps, G. L., & Archer, S. D. (2020). A meta-analysis of microcosm experiments shows that dimethyl sulfide (DMS) production in polar waters is insensitive to ocean acidification. Biogeosciences, 17(1): 163-186.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 19th May 2023.
  • 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. Please note that all international awards have been made for our programme for 2023 so we will not be accepting applications from international candidates,
  • 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.

Applications are open

Apply now