Project Description

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

Essential skills

  • Have or be about to obtain a BSc Hons. (2:1 or higher) in Microbiology, Biochemistry, or a related field.

Desired skills

  • Have or be about to obtain a Master’s degree in Microbiology, Biochemistry, or a related field.


Photo by Jason Chin.


Jason Chin

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Jason Chin
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

John W. McGrath

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: John W. McGrath
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences


Long‑Term Adaptation of Acidophilic Archaeal Ammonia Oxidisers
Following Different Soil Fertilisation Histories. Zhao, J., Wang, B., Zhou, X., Alam, M. S., Fan, J., Guo, Z., Zhang, H., Gubry‑Rangin, C., Zhongjun, J. Microbial Ecology (2021).

Alternative strategies of nutrient acquisition and energy conservation map to the biogeography of marine ammonia-oxidizing archaea. Qin, W., Zheng, Y., Zhao, F. et al. ISME Journal (2020), 14, 2595–2609.


The Thaumarchaeota are an essential component of the microbial community which maintains the health of, and nutrient availability in, soil and marine environments. In particular, they are the major drivers of nitrification in acidic soils, which includes approximately 30% of global land. While nitrification is a natural process, the anthropogenic addition of nitrogen fertilisers has led to an increase in nitrification-derived greenhouse gas emissions from soils, whilst creating a feedback loop of soil acidification by nitrification. In the marine environment, ocean acidification may inhibit nitrification, creating a nitrogen cycling “bottleneck” and inhibiting primary production. As the Thaumarchaeota play such a key role in nitrification in each of these environments it is essential that we understand how they adapt to changing environmental conditions and nutrient availabilities, and the impact this has on their metabolic activity. This work will explore these topics with the intent of helping us to identity pressures which will drive the Thaumarchaeota community to different states, and what these states mean for ecosystem resilience and function. This will allow us to better understand the biogeochemistry of the Earth, and also to predict how our soil and water ecosystems will change under anthropogenic pressures.

Proposed Timetable

The analysis of the bank of Thaumarchaeota genomes will begin in the first year, seeking to chart the adaptation of these archaea into different niches. In parallel, the student will learn to culture Thaumarchaeota, including characterised strains from culture collections and isolates from environmental samples. In the second year, the student will continue examining the bank of genomes for the presence of, and changes in, metabolic genes which relate to niche adaptation, matching this with assays of nutrient cycling behaviours to confirm functionality in vitro. The final 18 months of the project will focus on testing identified pressures to quantify the effect of these on driving community change in the Thaumarchaeota.


  • biodiversity

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