PhD position to investigate the evolution of DPANN symbionts and their hosts

Updated: 19 days ago
Deadline: 08 May 2021

The Department of Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry (MMB) located at the Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), is looking for a highly motivated PhD student with a background in bioinformatics, population genomics, phylogenomics and metagenomics, experience with coding and a keen interest in symbiosis, archaea and evolution. The position is offered for a minimum of three years.

The Research Location
The research of the Department of Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry (MMB) has a long history of studying Archaea, especially their role in marine biogeochemical cycles as well as their membrane lipid biomarkers. These are used both in the present but also in the past as fossilized lipid remnants to decipher past climate changes and to reconstruct microbial evolution.
The MMB department is also focused on the identity, activity and physiology of Archaea and other marine microbes, their interactions, and their role in biogeochemical cycling in a variety of marine environments, ranging from tidal flats and coral reefs to the deep ocean and sediments. The department is equipped with state-of-the-art laboratories, bioinformatics resources and analytical equipment, and has an excellent level of technical support.
The research team of Anja Spang, who was recently awarded an ERC-starting grant (ASymbEL) has a key interest in the role of symbiosis in the evolution of life on Earth ranging from the origin of the eukaryotic cell to symbiotic relationships between different extant microbial groups, including archaea. The focus of her current research lies in the study of DPANN archaea, which represent a tentative archaeal superphylum comprising lineages with extremely small genomes and cell sizes, that includes the so far only parasitic members of the archaea.

The Project
The recent application of metagenomics approaches to the study of microbial communities has greatly expanded our view on life’s diversity and led to the discovery of a large radiation of DPANN archaeal lineages with small genomes hypothesized to represent microbial symbionts. The placement of these lineages in the tree of life has proven difficult, the exact reasons of which are poorly established so far. Furthermore, nearly nothing is known about the impact of DPANN symbionts on biogeochemical nutrient cycles, microbial community functioning and the evolution of their hosts. Integrated into the larger frame of ASymbEL, in this project we will study existing symbiont-host systems as well as enrich for novel ones, as a basis to investigate the microevolutionary impact of DPANN symbionts on their hosts. In particular, we will elucidate fundamental principles of DPANN and host genome evolution using a variety of genomics approaches combined with cultivation, microscopy and experimental evolution.

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