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Microbial survival in stressed environments

Environmental change due to human activities can have devastating impacts on microbial activities that are essential to the earth’s ecosystem functions. Microbial adaptations to stresses have been described in the laboratory, but it is not well understood how these relate to the natural environment.

In particular, we have limited knowledge of the impact of physical variables like soil structure (“the soil phenotype”) on microbial stress responses. A major biological factor known to promote microbial survival of environmental stress is evolution of variation, as different phenotypes may be better adapted to the new conditions. Recent breakthroughs through NERC-funded work in the Avery laboratory and elsewhere have emphasised how different forms of phenotypic variation are important for microbial survival in the wild. The challenge now is to understand how the type of environment may alter the impact of phenotypic variation on microbial survival.

Therefore, this project will test the hypothesis that environmental heterogeneity (spatial structure) modulates the impact of phenotypic variation in ecosystems. By addressing this major question, this studentship will help us to understand the resilience of microbial populations and their essential roles to environmental perturbation. The studentship applies state-of the-art technologies and interdisciplinary collaboration between the University of Nottingham and Rothamsted Research to help resolve this fundamental problem. As well as outstanding training opportunities in transferable and research-related skills, specific training will be given in 3D X-ray imaging, additive manufacturing, iChip technology, and current methods for isolation, cultivation and phenotyping of microbial populations.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a subject such as Biology, Microbiology, Environmental Science, or Natural Sciences.

For further details please contact Professor Simon Avery: