Do diatoms feel cold? Mechanisms of temperature sensing in temperate and polar diatoms


Do diatoms feel cold? Mechanisms of temperature sensing in temperate and polar diatoms


Project Description


Dr Glen Wheeler, Marine Biological Association (MBA)

Prof Thomas Mock, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Dr Katherine Helliwell, Marine Biological Association


Scientific background

Diatoms are single-celled algae that are able to inhabit diverse marine environments, including habitats that experience significant fluctuations in temperature and salinity, such as estuaries. Diatoms are major primary producers in polar environments and can inhabit the water/sea ice interface or live within hypersaline brine channels within the ice itself. However, little is known about the cellular mechanisms that allow diatoms to sense and respond to rapid changes in their environment.

Changing temperature regimes are likely to have a significant impact on marine ecosystems in the coming century. This project will examine how diatoms sense changes in temperature and salinity and translate these stimuli into physiological responses. The overarching aim will be to identify the specialised adaptations that underpin their ecological success in temperate and polar environments that experience extremes of temperature and salinity.


The project will use state of the art technologies to study how diatoms respond to changes in temperature and salinity. The aims of the project will be 1) to examine calcium-dependent signalling processes in response to these stimuli, 2) to determine the cellular mechanisms that act downstream of calcium signalling, 3) to determine how these changes in cell physiology influence the ability of marine diatoms to inhabit fluctuating environments. The project will feature extensive use of live cell imaging, using fluorescent microscopy of diatom cells expressing genetically encoded calcium reporters. The project will also employ the advanced molecular techniques now available in diatoms to generate strains expressing additional fluorescent biosensors or for targeted gene knockout of potential signalling pathways.


The project will offer extensive training opportunities in laboratory techniques, including algal growth and physiology, advanced microscopy (including single cell imaging) and molecular techniques including development of transgenic diatoms strains.

Person specification:

We are looking for a highly motivated individual with a strong interest in algal biology and ecophysiology. The project will primarily suit candidates with a degree in biology, biochemistry and/or molecular biology but candidates with other relevant experience will also be considered.


  • Helliwell KE, Chrachri A, Koester J, Wharam S, Verret F, Taylor AR, Wheeler GL, and Brownlee C. (2019). Alternative mechanisms for fast Na+/Ca2+ signalling in eukaryotes via a novel class of single-domain voltage-gated channels. Current Biology. 29 (9), 1503-1511.
  • Mock et al. (2017) Evolutionary genomics of the cold-adapted diatom Fragilariopsis cylindrus. Nature (DOI: 10.1038/nature20803)
  • Wheeler, G; Helliwell, KE; Brownlee, C (2018). Calcium signalling in algae. Perspectives in Phycology. doi: 10.1127/pip/2018/0082
  • Arrigo, K (2014) Sea Ice Ecosystems. Annual Review of Marine Science 6:439-467. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-marine-010213-135103
  • Falciatore A et al (2000) Perception of Environmental Signals by a Marine Diatom. Science 288 (5475), pp. 2363-2366. DOI: 10.1126/science.288.5475.2363

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
  • 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, or contact

Studentship Open for Applications

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