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ENV East Doctoral Training Partnership


Applications to the EnvEast Doctoral Training Partnership are now closed.

Below you can browse some of the PhD projects we have previously funded; if you would like to be informed when applications open, or if you have any questions about EnvEast and our application process, please email us.

Projects previously funded by EnvEast


Unlocking the microbial cycle of isoprene, an abundant climate-altering hydrocarbon

Project description

This PhD studentship provides an exciting opportunity to greatly advance our understanding of the biological cycling of a major climate-altering gas, by working as part of a cross-disciplinary team of microbial ecologists, biogeochemists and environmental modellers.

Marine algae (and many other organisms including humans) produce the hydrocarbon, isoprene. It is the second most abundant hydrocarbon in the atmosphere (closely following methane), and its reactivity in the lower atmosphere results in warming or cooling of the Earth depending on the prevailing conditions.

We have shown recently that coastal zones are hot spots of isoprene production and that many types of bacteria use isoprene as a source of carbon and energy. There are, however, many poorly understood features of this cycle of isoprene production and consumption that hinder the development of models that are so essential to predict how much isoprene escapes to the atmosphere.

Therefore, in order to understand the cycle of this climate-active volatile hydrocarbon, and how it is affected by human activity and environmental change, the research project will:

  • Determine how much isoprene (made by algae and other microbes) is consumed by bacteria before it enters the atmosphere, by measuring algal production and bacterial consumption in the sediments along an estuarine gradient.
  • Experimentally determine how environmental factors, such as light levels and temperature, influence the cycling of isoprene.
  • Identify the main uncultivated isoprene degraders using state-of-the-art molecular techniques.
  • Culture and characterise novel isoprene-degrading bacteria, and determine how environmental parameters influence their activity.
  • Develop models to predict isoprene flux from sediments.

There will be additional societal benefits emanating from this research, notably the new understanding of algal-bacterial interactions should shed light on how hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria survive in the absence of an oil spill.

  • Start date 1 October 2014