Phillip R K Pichon
My research interests lay within the field of microbiology, predominantly in the activities and interactions of microbes in the marine environment. My enthusiasm for this area of research was initially fuelled during my undergraduate degree in marine biology at the University of Portsmouth, which included my participation in a 3 month Erasmus work placement at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. During this placement I became familiar with characterisation and identification techniques used for marine microbes, which subsequently provided an excellent basis for my dissertation topic; characterisation of bacterial isolates associated with the clam and scallop microbiota.
Having developed a keen interest in marine microbiology, I studied an MSc in Tropical Marine Biology at the University of Essex and was introduced to the importance of marine microbes in biogeochemical cycling. My master’s thesis investigated the production and degradation of isoprene, a biogenic volatile organic compound (BVOC), within the holobiont of scleractinian coral, and identified a previously unknown tropical isoprene sink term. Whilst studying isoprene degradation I became further interested in other volatile organic compounds (VOCs), their environmental impact, and the role of microbes in regulating their release to the atmosphere.
PhD title: Microbial Degradation of Acetaldehyde in Marine Environments
Marine environments represent the largest global source of the oxygenated, highly volatile organic compound, acetaldehyde, to the atmosphere ( 17-125 million tonnes per year). After entering the atmosphere, acetaldehyde takes part in a series of chemical reactions which alters the atmospheres oxidising capacity, consequently contributing to global warming. The extent of acetaldehyde atmospheric flux is limited by microbial activity; however, the identity and diversity of the microbes responsible for acetaldehyde degradation remain largely unknown.
As a result, the degradation pathway of acetaldehyde has yet to be elucidated. Furthermore, without an understanding of the abundance of microbes in marine environments able to utilise and degrade acetaldehyde, estimations of ocean emissions will continue to be broad and unreliable. Moreover, the impact of various environmental conditions on rates of acetaldehyde degradation has yet to be identified, and given the contribution of acetaldehyde to global warming, this impact could be significant in the near future.
Accordingly, this project aims to isolate, identify and characterise the microbes responsible for acetaldehyde degradation in the marine environment, using microcosm enrichment experiments coupled with high-throughput next generation sequencing (16S rRNA). Proteomic analysis will be used to identify the genes involved in acetaldehyde metabolism, whilst the abundance and diversity of acetaldehyde-degrading microbes in coastal waters will be determined by developing and applying primers for quantitative real-time PCR. The impact of environmental factors on degradation rates will also be established.
- Lasa, A., Pichon, P., Diéguez, A. L. & Romalde, J. L. (2016). Marinomonas gallaica sp. nov. and Marinomonas atlantica sp. nov., Isolated from Reared Clams (Ruditapes decussatus). International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology, 66, 3183-3188.
- University of Portsmouth Top Student Award (2014)
- University of Portsmouth Environmental Monitoring Unit Prize (2014)
- Reef Conservation UK (RCUK) 2014
- Chagos Conservation Conference 2014
Attended Reef Conversation UK (RCUK) 2014 and the Chagos Conservation Conference 2014 at ZSL during my master’s degree in order to enhance my knowledge of coral reef ecology, network and communicate with researchers within the field, and to be exposed to cutting edge research associated with corals and the reef community. These conferences, particularly RCUK, were useful in supplementing my learning and provided valuable information which could be applied to my master’s thesis.
Supervisory team and research groups
- Dr. Terry McGenity - Environmental and Plant Bioscience Research Group (Ecology and Biogeochemistry)
- Dr. Boyd A McKew - Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Group
- Dr. Joanna L Dixon - Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML)
- Prof. J Colin Murrell - Earth and Life Systems Alliance (ELSA) / University of East Anglia
Other relevant activities
Erasmus Placement - University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. (2013) Volunteered to take part in a 3 month work placement at the University of Santiago de Compostela in order to advance my knowledge of bacterial characterisation and identification, expand my range of laboratory techniques associated with this type of work (e.g. 16S rRNA gene sequencing & phylogenetic analysis), whilst also gaining a better understanding of postgraduate work by collaborating with current PhD students. During my time at the university I was able to complete my third year project and assist my peers with their work; resulting in a publication.