The PhD student in this project will be part of a vibrant international collaboration between Aarhus University, University of Bristol and the German Research Centre for Geosciences. This is part of an ERC-Synergy award to the project Deep Purple , providing essential field and laboratory measurements of critical physical and microbial processes associated with the darkening of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS). The specific role of this PhD project will be to conduct experiments in the laboratory and in the field to investigate mechanisms associated with microbial adaptation to icy habitats and their biotechnological potential.
Active algae, fungi, bacteria and viruses dominate in glacial environments and they can change the physical and chemical characteristics of the ice and snow. For instance, the presence of algae growing on glaciers reduces the albedo of the ice surface. Together with anthropogenic black carbon and mineral debris inputs, they absorb sunlight on the surface of the ice, substantially increasing ice melting during the summer.
Given that surface melting is controlled primarily by the albedo (reflectivity) of surface ice, significant additional melting along the western GrIS has been attributed to the blooming of pigmented glacial algal communities during the summer melt seasons, causing so-called ‘biological-albedo’ reductions. These algae possess a suite of typical light harvesting and photo-protective carotenoid pigments, in addition to the production of high concentrations of specialized purpurogalin UV-absorbing pigments, which facilitate their survival and proliferation in this extreme environment.
The PhD position involves contributing to new knowledge about the microbial mechanisms for cold adaptation with particular focus on glacial algae growth, survival and pigmentation at the molecular level. Furthermore, the biotechnological potentials of cold-active bioactive molecules like enzymes or antimicrobial compounds will be investigated. Laboratory and field experimental approaches, enzymatic analyses, transcriptomes, among other techniques will be applied. In addition, fieldwork in the Arctic and a 3-month out-going research stay at an international research environment is tentatively planned.
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