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Fungal parasites of marine diatoms – the biology and ecology of marine chytrids (CUNLIFFE_UMBA17EE) - CASE studentship with the Marine Biological Association of the UK

Project description

Scientific background and significance

The fungi Chytridiomycota (chytrids) include parasites of diatoms, and freshwater chytrids can have a profound impact on freshwater diatoms, causing reductions in fitness and cell death. Compared to their freshwater counterparts, the relationships between marine diatoms and chytrids are poorly understood. We have shown that increases in chytrid abundance coincide with marine diatom blooms, indicating that the diatom communities undergo regular periods of chytrid infection (Taylor & Cunliffe 2016). Microscope-based observations of marine diatoms also show the prevalence of infecting chytrids. Given the significant impact that chytrids have on freshwater diatoms, analogous relationships between marine chytrids and diatoms could be having a major impact on diatom biology and ecology.

Research methodology (the role of the student)

The aims of this PhD project will be to improve our understanding of the biological and ecological relationships between marine diatoms and their parasitic chytrids using a combination of field-based observations of natural communities and laboratory-based experiments with model organisms. Plankton samples will be collected from the English Channel and used to quantify diatom and parasite abundance microscopically. DNA samples will also be used to assess chytrid diversity and abundance using molecular tools. Infected diatoms will be isolated and maintained in culture. Using the cultures, ecophysiological experiments will be conducted to quantify the impact of chytrid infections on host fitness and to characterize the host/parasite life cycle.


The student will undertake the research outlined above with guidance from the supervisors. Components of the project will be open for the student to explore themselves with support from the supervisory team, including developing and testing hypotheses. The project is multi-disciplinary and the student will gain training in a diverse range of research skills, including field-work, microbial cultivation, microscopy, physiology, molecular ecology,‘omics and bioinformatics. The project will also provide training in a range of transferable key skills, including independent thinking, communication, project/time management and knowledge exchange (e.g. social media training).

Person specification

This project will suit a student with interests in microbial biology and ecology, including students with first degrees in microbiology, marine biology, biology, ecology or biological oceanography.


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 14/15 February 2017.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17 the stipend was £14,296.

For further information, please visit


1. Taylor JD & Cunliffe M (2016) Multi-year assessment of coastal planktonic fungi reveals environmental drivers of diversity and abundance. The ISME Journal 10: 2118-2128

2. Taylor JD & Cunliffe M (2014) High-throughput sequencing reveals neustonic and planktonic protist diversity in coastal waters. Journal of Phycology 50: 960–965.

3. Mock T & Medlin LK (2012) Genomics and genetics of diatoms. Advances in Botanical Research 64: 245-284.

4. Scholz B, Guillou L, Marano AV, Neuhauser S, Sullivan BK, Karsten U, Küpper FC & Gleason FH (2016) Zoosporic parasites infecting marine diatoms – A black box that needs to be opened. Fungal Ecology 19: 59-76.


Prof Thomas Mock, School of Environmental Sciences, UEA

Dr Glen Wheeler, The Marine Biological Association

  • Start date October 2017
  • Programme PhD
  • Mode of Study full time
  • Studentship Length 3.5 years
Entry requirements
  • Acceptable First Degree microbiology, marine biology, biology, ecology or biological oceanography
  • Minimum Entry Standard 2:1 Honours degree