PhD studentship: Do climate-active gases sustain bacteria in Australian tropical rainforest soils?

The Hernández lab at the University of East Anglia is looking for a PhD student to study the distribution and activity of trace gas oxidizers in Australian rainforest soils. 

Supervisory Team: Dr Marcela Hernández, Prof Colin Murrell, Dr Chris Greening and Dr Falk Hildebrand


Atmospheric trace gases are important drivers of climate change. Some, such as methane have a direct impact on global warming, whereas others, such as carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen, have important secondary effects on the atmospheric chemistry that drives climate change. Some soil microorganisms consume these trace gases, removing significant amounts from the atmosphere. This process has not been investigated in tropical ecosystems despite their high biodiversity and elevated trace gas levels. To resolve this, this PhD project will investigate the microbial oxidation of atmospheric trace gases in the Wet Tropics Rainforest, Australia, the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest worldwide. The student will isolate and characterise hydrogen- and CO-oxidising bacteria belonging to the Chloroflexi, as well as aiming to isolate the first methane-consuming bacteria from the Gemmatimonadotes. Related to the objectives of this PhD programme, we will develop methods for measuring real-time atmospheric trace gases that serve to capture information on evolving trends in carbon emissions, climate impacts, and their drivers using cutting-edge techniques. While revealing feedback mechanisms relevant to climate change amid the growing impacts of deforestation and global warming on rainforests, this project will improve the understanding of the productivity, biodiversity, and biogeochemistry of rainforest ecosystems.

The project 

The student will determine how bacteria can oxidise climate-active gases in tropical rainforests. Soil incubations will be performed, and trace-gases will be measured. The student will be trained in cutting-edge tools for isolation of microbes, whole-genome sequencing, metagenomics, and bioinformatics.


The student will receive training in experimental design and data analyses, and will learn molecular microbial techniques (e.g. DNA sequencing and whole genome sequencing). Specific training will include the cultivation of soil bacteria, whole genome sequencing and (meta)genomic analysis. The student will present their results at lab meetings, departmental seminars, and at national and international conferences.

Person specification

We are looking for a pro-active, highly motivated student willing to join sampling campaigns in Australian rainforest and participate in outreach events. The candidate should have a background in Microbial Sciences (BSc/Masters in Soil Microbiology, Environmental Microbiology, Biogeochemistry, Molecular biology, Bioinformatics or similar).

Successful candidates will be awarded a 4-year studentship covering tuition fees, maintenance stipend, funds to support the research project and associated training. Additional funds are not available to assist with relocation or visa costs.

This project has been selected for the Critical Decade for Climate Change programme, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. Shortlisted applicants will be invited to online interview, to be held late February/early March 2022. The start date is 1 October 2022.

Further information
Further information may be obtained from Dr Marcela Hernández at

Please do not send applications to this e-mail address; follow the electronic application and submission procedure as explained below.

Please submit your online application no later than 19 January 2022.

 More information:

Application deadline:
Start date:
Location: Norwich, UK