Dr Mette Burmølle (Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen)
Professor Terry McGenity (School of Life Sciences, University of Essex)
Dr Philippe Laissue (School of Life Sciences, University of Essex)
Biofilms are living layers on surfaces formed by bacteria, microalgae, fungi and single-celled eukaryotes. All surfaces in the ocean have biofilms, but their composition varies according to environment. The settling larvae of marine invertebrates use biofilms to identify suitable habitats during recruitment. However, biofilms also present a physical barrier to settlement. Some larvae remove or kill biofilms to reach surfaces, whereas others need a biofilm for strong adhesion. This meeting of kingdoms during larval settlement is a basis for benthic recruitment about which we know remarkably little. This project will improve our understanding of larva-biofilm interactions toward commercial and conservation applications of global importance. Settlement of mussel spat for sustainable aquaculture production and the economically and environmentally harmful biofouling of ships, for example, can be strongly influenced by biofilms. In a changing ocean that threatens the survival of benthic species such as corals, it is crucial to understand how biofilms may control larval recruitment.
Previous studies have used reproducible but unrealistic single-species biofilms, or uncharacterised wild-type biofilms, to understand their role in invertebrate recruitment. This project will use unique communities of natural bacterial isolates, developed in the Burmølle laboratory (University of Copenhagen) to understand how biofilms affect barnacle, mussel and hydrozoan settlement. Using laboratory assays of larval behaviour and adhesion strength, lab-cultured and field collected biofilms, combined with 16S metagenetic and confocal microscopy techniques, the student will identify traits in biofilm communities that influence ‘decision-making’ by larvae.
The successful candidate will make a significant contribution to a globally important field where understanding is lacking. They will learn techniques including advanced bioimaging and molecular biology in the School of Life Sciences laboratories and during visits to the Burmølle Lab. Bespoke methods (larval behaviour & adhesion strength) and transferable techniques (e.g. microbiology & bioimaging) will combine with data analysis, scientific writing and presentation experience to provide a broad skill-set.
Candidates should have a biological background, with relevant additional experience including microbiology and/or marine biology viewed favourably.
Informal enquiries can be made to Dr Nick Aldred (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Please email email@example.com to apply.