PhD Studentship: Fungal parasites of marine diatoms

PhD Studentship: Fungal parasites of marine diatoms – the biology and ecology of marine chytrids (CASE studentship with the Marine Biological Association of the UK) (CUNLIFFE_UMBA17EE)
University of East Anglia – School of Environmental Sciences
Qualification type: PhD
Location: Norwich
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £14,296
Hours: Full Time, Part Time
Placed on: 19th October 2016
Closes: 8th January 2017
Start Date: October 2017

Supervisor: Dr Michael Cunliffe

Project description:

Scientific background and significance

The fungi Chytridiomycota (chytrids) include parasites of diatoms, and freshwater chytrids can have a profound impact on freshwater diatoms, causing reductions in fitness and cell death. Compared to their freshwater counterparts, the relationships between marine diatoms and chytrids are poorly understood. We have shown that increases in chytrid abundance coincide with marine diatom blooms, indicating that the diatom communities undergo regular periods of chytrid infection (Taylor & Cunliffe 2016). Microscope-based observations of marine diatoms also show the prevalence of infecting chytrids. Given the significant impact that chytrids have on freshwater diatoms, analogous relationships between marine chytrids and diatoms could be having a major impact on diatom biology and ecology.

Research methodology (the role of the student)

The aims of this PhD project will be to improve our understanding of the biological and ecological relationships between marine diatoms and their parasitic chytrids using a combination of field-based observations of natural communities and laboratory-based experiments with model organisms. Plankton samples will be collected from the English Channel and used to quantify diatom and parasite abundance microscopically. DNA samples will also be used to assess chytrid diversity and abundance using molecular tools. Infected diatoms will be isolated and maintained in culture. Using the cultures, ecophysiological experiments will be conducted to quantify the impact of chytrid infections on host fitness and to characterize the host/parasite life cycle.


The student will undertake the research outlined above with guidance from the supervisors. Components of the project will be open for the student to explore themselves with support from the supervisory team, including developing and testing hypotheses. The project is multi-disciplinary and the student will gain training in a diverse range of research skills, including field-work, microbial cultivation, microscopy, physiology, molecular ecology,‘omics and bioinformatics. The project will also provide training in a range of transferable key skills including, independent thinking, communication, project/time management and knowledge exchange (e.g. social media training).

Person specification: This project will suit a student with interests in microbial biology and ecology, including students with first degrees in microbiology, marine biology, biology, ecology or biological oceanography.

Funding notes: 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.

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