Project Description

A full project description can be found on Find a PhD.

Essential skills

  • Candidates should have, or expect to achieve, a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.
  • Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.

Desirable skills

  • Applications from candidates with a working knowledge or experience of some of the microbiological and analytical techniques outlined in the project description are particularly welcomed.

Photo by sebastian del val from Pixabay


Julianne Megaw

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Julianne Megaw
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Cécile Gubry-Rangin

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Cécile Gubry-Rangin
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Bobby Graham

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Bobby Graham
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences


As outlined in the research proposal, this project will enable us to better understand some of the responses of archaea to various biotic and abiotic influences in their natural environments. It is now common knowledge that all ecological systems both impact, and are impacted by, their microbiome, and the importance of the microbiome in diverse environments is without question. However, even with an ever-increasing quantity of microbiome research being conducted by the scientific community, there is little focus on the archaea and their function within microbiomes, effectively leaving an entire domain of life almost completely ignored. We seek to investigate the function of this highly significant, but often forgotten, portion of the microbial diversity on our planet.

Recently, global scientific interest in archaea has increased, in response to a new understanding of their environmental relevance. In addition to this, public interest has increased, stimulated by NASA’s Perseverance Rover mission, and the search for life on other planets, which has in part been guided by studies of Martian analogues on Earth, many of which are dominated by extremophilic archaea.

Our growing understanding of the importance of archaea highlights the necessity of increasing our general knowledge regarding their behaviour, and how they grow and survive, and gain a greater understanding of how they are affected by environmental influences such as stress, environmental fluctuations, and interactions with other microbial species, due to the impact this is likely to have on ecological systems of which they are an important component.

Knowledge gained from this project will expand our fundamental understanding of the importance of archaea in living systems by potentially uncovering some unknown ecological functions, and previously unknown methods of adaptation, which may answer further fundamental questions about the importance of the non-bacterial members of mixed microbial communities.

Proposed Timetable

Year 1
Identification of environmental influences that are relevant to archaea, such as particular stress conditions, fluctuations, and the presence of other species, and development, optimisation, and use of assays to determine ‘baseline’ phenotypic responses to these influences. The results of these experiments will inform the conditions under which subsequent experiments will be conducted to obtain proteomic data and conduct loss-of-function screening on transposon insertion mutants.

Year 2+3
The student will conduct experiments to analyse changes at the proteome level, under conditions identified as significant based on the findings of the experiments conducted in year 1. This will involve culture work, protein extraction, and protein analysis (identification and quantification). During years 2 and 3, these experiments can be run concurrently with assays to determine the genetic basis of some observed phenotypes, by screening a transposon mutant library for mutants displaying loss of function or altered function in the test conditions, followed by sequence analysis to identify the mutated genes.

Beyond year 3, the student will complete any outstanding lab work and prepare and submit their thesis.


  • biodiversity

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