PhD studentship: Do trace gas oxidising bacteria help build soil on volcanic rock?

The Hernández lab at the University of East Anglia is looking for a PhD student to work on the role of trace gases and the microbes that consume them in the development of volcanic soils.

Supervisory Team: Dr Marcela Hernández, Prof Colin Murrell and Dr Laura Lehtovirta-Morley.


Trace-gas metabolising microbes can produce “early” organic carbon leading to soil formation and therefore play a crucial role in soil dynamics. They are particularly important in early soil formation, where organic carbon concentration is low. Understanding the mechanisms by which these microbes consume trace gases is important as this will determine the rate and nature of initial biomass formation, providing the foundation for the development of heterotrophic microbes, microbial turnover, plant growth and root exudation. Although the relative abundance of trace-gas metabolising microbes may decrease as soil develops, the absolute amount of trace-gas metabolism is likely sustained and significant in control of the Earth’s climate. The objective of this PhD proposal is to determine the drivers influencing microbial colonisation of new volcanic soils and the importance of trace gases in supporting soil formation and restoration.

The project

The student will determine how bacteria are able to oxidise climate-active gases such as methane, carbon monoxide and hydrogen in recently-formed soils from volcanoes. Soil incubations will be performed, and trace-gases will be measured by using gas chromatography. The student will be trained in cutting-edge tools for isolation and identification of microbes, including whole genome sequencing, metagenomics and bioinformatics.


The student will receive training in experimental design and data analyses and will learn molecular microbial ecology techniques such as stable isotope probing, DNA sequencing and metagenomics. Specific training will include the cultivation of soil bacteria; quantitative PCR; amplicon-based sequencing (metagenetics); whole genome sequencing and (meta)genomic analysis. They will enrol in soft-skills workshops (e.g. how to give a presentations, how to write a fellowship application, scientific writing) at the University of East Anglia. The student will present their results at weekly lab meetings, departmental seminars, and also at national and international conferences.

Person specification

We are looking for a pro-active, highly motivated student willing to join sampling campaigns at Llaima Volcano in Chile and/or at Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii. Background knowledge on basic microbiology techniques is desirable. The successful candidate should have a strong background in Microbial, Soil or Environmental Sciences (BSc/Masters in Soil Microbiology, Environmental Microbiology, or similar).

This project is funded by ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship covering fees, stipend and research funding for 3.5 years. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Additional funds are not available to assist with relocation or visa costs.

ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience. Our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.

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 12 January 2022 through the ARIES-DTP application system:

Application deadline:
Start date:
Location: Norwich, UK