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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


The making and breaking of dimethylsulfide by pelagic microorganisms – revealing the populations, the genes and the pathways used.

Project description


Dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP) is one of Earth’s most abundant sulfur-containing organic molecules; ~109 tons are made each year in its oceans and their margins. It occurs at remarkable intracellular levels (as high as 0.5 M) in phytoplankton, macroalgae and some angiosperms (1). When DMSP is liberated from these organisms, it is catabolised by microbial-driven reactions that comprise a massive set of biotransformations in the global sulfur cycle (1). The gas dimethylsulfide (DMS), a component of the smell of the sea, is a significant product of this catabolism. Atmospheric DMS has a role as a climate-cooling gas due to the properties of atmospheric aerosols derived from it, which aid in cloud formation and reflect heat radiation into space affecting climate and atmospheric chemistry. DMS is also a powerful signalling molecule; it aids many animals, ranging from turtles to shearwaters, to find sources of food. The majority of DMS produced by microbial populations is not emitted into the atmosphere but is degraded by various microbial populations and metabolic pathways (1).

The Project

Building on techniques and novel observations from the applicants (1), the student will use state-of-the-art innovative molecular ecology techniques, including Stable Isotope Probing (SIP) and pryrosequencing, to study microbial populations that cycle the globally significant organic sulfur compounds DMSP and DMS in pelagic samples from the English Channel. They will combine geochemical and molecular biological approaches to identify key microbes that catabolise DMSP and DMS, identify the key genes and cognate biochemical pathways that contribute to the turnover of these influential molecules. Presently there are no such DNA-SIP studies on any pelagic samples. This project will provide essential data to enable scientists to understand key bio-transformations in the global sulfur cycle.


  1. Curson, AR, et al. (2011). Catabolism of dimethylsulphoniopropionate: microorganisms, enzymes and genes. Nat Rev Micro 9, 849-59.

Professor Colin Murrell
Dr Jennifer Pratscher
Mr Andy Smith (Cefas)


  • Start date 1 October 2014