Molecular exploration of virus-induced DMSP production by phytoplankton (KIMMANCE_UPML18EE)

Plymouth Marine Laboratory
October 11 2017
Life Sciences, Biology
Position Type
Full Time
Organization Type


Throughout the world's oceans a constant battle is taking place, with algal viruses infecting and destroying their phytoplankton hosts. Viruses can completely eradicate phytoplankton bloom populations, e.g., the calcifying coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi (Kimmance et al. 2014).

Coccolithophores form huge blooms in many regions of the world's oceans acting as giant sponges mopping up CO2. Furthermore, they impact global sulphur cycling because they can produce high concentrations of the osmolyte dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP). DMSP is the major precursor of gaseous dimethylsuphide (DMS), which has key roles in signalling pathways, atmospheric chemistry potentially affecting climate, and sulphur transfer to terrestrial systems.

Viral lysis of phytoplankton is thought to be one of the key processes in the transformation of DMSP yielding DMS. Indeed, E. huxleyi viral infection has been shown to stimulate DMS production (Evans et al. 2006). However, the evidence for this is limited, and how this actually occurs within the cell is virtually unknown. Furthermore, whether this is a phenomenon typical of other coccolithophores, and additionally other phytoplankton species, is unclear.

With recent discovery of phytoplankton genes involved in both DMSP synthesis and its cleavage to DMS, we are now in a position to study viral-phytoplankton interactions and their role on DMSP/DMS production at a molecular level.

Broad research questions

1. Does virus infection directly stimulate the DMSP production and its conversion to DMS?

2. Which genes are regulated during virus-induced DMS/P production?

3. Upon infection, do all DMSP producers have the capacity to produce DMS?

Facilities and training

The project partners host state-of-the-art facilities that the candidate can utilise for phytoplankton culturing, analytical flow cytometry, and molecular biology, including access to Plymouth Marine Laboratory's Single Cell Genomics facility and natural seawater sampling.

The candidate will receive training and develop expertise in algal/virus culturing; molecular biology; virology; flow cytometry; trace gas analysis; phytoplankton and virus ecology, and marine biogeochemistry.

You will join dynamic and friendly research groups at PML and SAHFOS, with expertise in virology, molecular biology and trace gas biogeochemistry, and have the opportunity to spend time at the University of East Anglia learning molecular microbiology with Dr Todd and his world-leading team.

Secondary supervisors: Dr Jonathan Todd (UEA), Professor Willie Wilson (SAHFOS), Dr Frances Hopkins (Plymouth Marine Laboratory)


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 12/13 February 2018.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK's eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources.

EnvEast welcomes applicants from quantitative disciplines who may have limited background in environmental sciences. Excellent candidates will be considered for an award of an additional 3-month stipend to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

For further information, please visit


This job comes from a partnership with Science Magazine and Euraxess

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