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Applications are now open for PhD studentships starting in October 2018. 

Please read the recruitment introduction for more information about eligibility, how to apply, and possibilities for further funding.

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2018.

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KIMMANCE_UPML18EE - Molecular exploration of virus-induced DMSP production by phytoplankton

Project description

Selected co-supervisors
Dr Jonathan Todd (UEA)
Professor Willie Wilson (SAHFOS)
Dr Frances Hopkins (Plymouth Marine Laboratory)

Throughout the world’s oceans a constant battle is taking place, with algal viruses infecting and destroying their phytoplankton hosts. Viruses can completely eradicate phytoplankton bloom populations, e.g., the calcifying coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi (Kimmance et al. 2014).

Coccolithophores form huge blooms in many regions of the world’s oceans acting as giant sponges mopping up CO2. Furthermore, they impact global sulphur cycling because they can produce high concentrations of the osmolyte dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP). DMSP is the major precursor of gaseous dimethylsuphide (DMS), which has key roles in signalling pathways, atmospheric chemistry potentially affecting climate, and sulphur transfer to terrestrial systems.

Viral lysis of phytoplankton is thought to be one of the key processes in the transformation of DMSP yielding DMS. Indeed, E. huxleyi viral infection has been shown to stimulate DMS production (Evans et al. 2006). However, the evidence for this is limited, and how this actually occurs within the cell is virtually unknown. Furthermore, whether this is a phenomenon typical of other coccolithophores, and additionally other phytoplankton species, is unclear.

With recent discovery of phytoplankton genes involved in both DMSP synthesis and its cleavage to DMS, we are now in a position to study viral-phytoplankton interactions and their role on DMSP/DMS production at a molecular level.

Broad research questions:

  • Does virus infection directly stimulate the DMSP production and its conversion to DMS?
  • Which genes are regulated during virus-induced DMS/P production?
  • Upon infection, do all DMSP producers have the capacity to produce DMS?


Facilities and training
The project partners host state-of-the-art facilities that the candidate can utilise for phytoplankton culturing, analytical flow cytometry, and molecular biology, including access to Plymouth Marine Laboratory’s Single Cell Genomics facility and natural seawater sampling.

The candidate will receive training and develop expertise in algal/virus culturing; molecular biology; virology; flow cytometry; trace gas analysis; phytoplankton and virus ecology, and marine biogeochemistry.

You will join dynamic and friendly research groups at PML and SAHFOS, with expertise in virology, molecular biology and trace gas biogeochemistry, and have the opportunity to spend time at the University of East Anglia learning molecular microbiology with Dr Todd and his world-leading team.

The successful candidate will be registered for a PhD in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed by EnvEast on 12/13 February 2018.

Selected candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. Ordinarily, EnvEast studentships are for 3.5 years, although longer awards may be made to applicants from quantitative disciplines who have limited experience in the environmental sciences, to allow them to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover tuition fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources.

This PhD studentship is expected to begin in September/October 2018. Both full-time and part-time study are possible (those planning to study part-time may wish to discuss this with the supervisor before applying).


  1. Kimmance, S. A., Allen, M. J., Pagarete, A., Martínez, J. M., & Wilson, W. H. (2014). Reduction in photosystem II efficiency during a virus-controlled Emiliania huxleyi bloom. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 495, 65-76.
  2. Evans, C., Kadner, S. V., Darroch, L. J., Wilson, W. H., Liss, P. S., & Malin, G. (2007). The relative significance of viral lysis and microzooplankton grazing as pathways of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) cleavage: an Emiliania huxleyi culture study. Limnology and Oceanography, 52(3), 1036-1045.
  3. Alcolombri, U., Lei, L., Meltzer, D., Vardi, A., & Tawfik, D. S. (2016). Assigning the algal source of dimethylsulfide using a selective lyase inhibitor. ACS chemical biology, 12(1), 41-46.
  4. 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.
  5. Curson ARJ, Williams BT, Pinchbeck BJ, Sims LP, Bermejo Martínez A, Rivera PPL, Kumaresan D, Mercadé E, Spurgin LG, Carrión O, Moxon S, Cattolico RA, Todd JD (in revision). DSYB catalyses the key step of dimethylsulfoniopropionate biosynthesis in many phytoplankton. Nature Microbiology