Understanding how the natural environment influences DMSP production by plants


Understanding how the natural environment influences DMSP production by plants


Project Description


Dr Ben Miller (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia) – Contact me

Professor Jon Todd (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)

Dr Frances Hopkins (Plymouth Marine Laboratory)


Project Background

Billions of tonnes of the organosulfur compound dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) are made each year by marine algae, corals and bacteria, and a number of plant species also make this important molecule. DMSP is a key marine nutrient pivotal in global sulfur cycling, as it is the main precursor of the climate-active gas dimethylsulfide (DMS), which gives the seaside its distinctive smell. Despite the role of DMSP being well established as an anti-stress molecule in marine algae and bacteria, its role in plants remains unknown. Indeed, only some plants have been shown to produce DMSP, including the saltmarsh cordgrass Spartina, which is likely the major DMSP producer in this environment. Saltmarshes are global hotspots for DMSP/DMS production, so determining the contribution played by plants in this production is key for understanding sulfur cycling in the natural environment.

In this project, we will explore how and why plants produce DMSP. The student will evaluate DMSP production in plants sampled from different environments and grown under controlled experimental conditions, using established gas chromatography techniques. The student will also build on our recent work identifying DMSP synthesis genes and test how expression of these genes and enzyme function is regulated in plants by the natural environment. This multi-disciplinary project will offer the student excellent training opportunities in plant biology, environmental sampling, bioinformatics, and the molecular biology and biochemistry of DMSP/DMS. Furthermore, the student will receive training in data analysis and manuscript preparation, whilst also having regular opportunities to present their work at national and international meetings.

Person Specification

We are looking for a highly motivated applicant with strong interests in plant biology, molecular biology, biochemistry and the natural environment, and who can thrive in a multi-disciplinary research laboratory. Candidates should have a background in biological or environmental sciences, and require a Bachelor degree.


  • 1) Williams et al. (2019) Nature Microbiol. doi:10.1038/s41564-019-0527-1
  • 2) Curson et al. (2017) Nature Microbiol. doi:10.1038/nmicrobiol.2017.9
  • 3) Hopkins et al. (2020) Biogeosciences. doi:10.5194/bg-17-163-2020
  • 4) Feike et al. (2019) Plant Biotech J. doi:10.1111/pbi.13135

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