Skip to Content


Rapid adaptive evolution of microalgae is realized by two-tier genomes and transcriptomes (MOCK_UENV17EE)

Project description

Scientific background

Microalgae are at the intersection of many different disciplines because of their interesting biology rooted in complex evolution and their key position in aquatic environments where they underpin global biogeochemical cycles and food webs. Although many decades of research have elucidated the evolutionary forces underpinning their biology and ecology, only recently did our group provide the first evidence of a previously unknown genomic architecture (the “two-tier genome”) and a versatile regulatory mechanism (the “two-tier transcriptome”). These evolutionary innovations seem to play a key role for how algae adapt to extreme fluctuating environments. In simple terms, allelic variants of the same genetic locus have diverged under Darwinian selection, facilitating adaptations to sometimes diametrically different environments. We called this the “two-tier genome” and the “two-tier transcriptome”, and evidence of this phenomenon is found throughout many microalgal communities.

Research methodology

  1. Single cell DNA and allele-specific RNA sequencing with model microalgae to identify gain or loss of heterozygosity and copy number variation, and assess the evolutionary forces underpinning allelic divergence and differential expression. 
  2. Selected allelic variants of single genes and entire metabolic pathways will be subjected to editing using CRISPR/Cas.
  3. Testing the ecological significance and biotechnological potential of selected alleles using phenomics.  


The student will receive training at the crossroads of functional molecular biology, population genomics and bioinformatics. The work extends to environmental biotechnology. Training will take place in ENV and the Computational Biology Laboratory at UEA and the Earlham Institute. Thus, training will be highly integrative and based on cutting edge tools. Specific training will be obtained in how to work collaboratively, how to prioritise and how to organize and structure a complex work flow.

Person specification

We are looking for a highly motivated student who is willing to pursue integrated work based on cutting edge technologies from neighbouring disciplines in environmental biology and biotechnology. Suitable first degree subjects are:  molecular biology, bioinformatics, population genomics, environmental biotechnology, marine biology, plant molecular biology, genetics, genomics and bio-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. Bentkowski, P., van Oosterhout, C., & Mock, T. (2015). A model of genome size evolution for prokaryotes in stable and fluctuating environments. Genome Biology and Evolution7(8), 2344-2351.
  2. Toseland A., Daines S. J., Clark J. R., Kirkham A., Strauss J., Uhlig C., Lenton T. M., Valentin K., Pearson G. A., Moulton V., Mock T. (2013) The impact of temperature on marine phytoplankton resource allocation and metabolism. Nature Climate Change, 3, 979-984
  3. Curtis B.A., Tanifuji G., Burki F., Gruber A., Irimia M., Maruyama S., Arias M.C., Ball S.G., Gile G.H., Hirakawa Y., Hopkins J.F., Kuo A., Rensing S.A., Schmutz J., Symeonidi A., Elias M., Eveleigh R.J.M., Herman E.K., Klute M.J., Nakayama T., Oborník M., Reyes-Prieto A., Armbrust E.V., Aves S.J., Beiko R.G., Coutinho P., Dacks J.B., Durnford D.G., Fast N.M., Green B.R., Grisdale C.J., Hempel F., Henrissat B., Höppner M.P., Ishida K-I., Kim E., Kořený L., Kroth P.G., Liu Y., Malik S-B., Maier U.G., McRose D., Mock T., Neilson J.A.D., Onodera N.T., Poole A.M., Pritham E.J., Richards T.A., Rocap G., Roy S.W., Sarai C., Schaack S., Shirato S., Slamovits C.H., Spencer D.F., Suzuki S., Worden A.Z., Zauner S., Barry K., Bell C., Bharti A.K., Crow J.A., Grimwood J., Kramer R., Lindquist E., Lucas S., Salamov A., McFadden G.I., Lane C.E., Keeling P.J., Gray M.W., Grigoriev I.V., Archibald J.M. (2012) Algal genomes reveal evolutionary mosaicism and the fate of nucleomorphs. Nature, 492, 59-65
  4.  Lopez-Gomollon S., Beckers M., Rathjen T., Moxon S., Maumus F., Mohorianu I., Moulton, V., Dalmay T., Mock T. (2014) Global discovery and characterization of small non-coding RNAs in marine microalgae. BMC Genomics, 15, 697
  • Start date October 2017
  • Programme PhD
  • Mode of Study full time
  • Studentship Length 3.5 years
Entry requirements
  • Acceptable First Degree molecular biology, bioinformatics, population genomics, environmental biotechnology, marine biology, plant molecular biology, genetics, genomics and bio-oceanography
  • Minimum Entry Standard 2:1 Honours degree