Characterization of polar cyanobacterial diversity and adaptation mechanisms to cold environments

Antarctic cyanobacteria

Cyanobacteria isolated from a meltwater pond on the McMurdo Ice Shelf, Antarctica

The PhD student will study the richness and abundance of cyanobacteria across the Arctic and Antarctic.

The student will evaluate their habitat range and assess the genomic basis implicated in the adaptation to cold environments.

The studentship is part of the Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by NERC and starts September 2018.

Apply for this course

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then send your application to

Application deadline: 7 January 2018

Research focus

This project aims to:

  • perform comprehensive assessments of the richness and abundance of cyanobacteria across the Arctic and Antarctic
  • evaluate their habitat range 
  • assess the genomic basis implicated in the adaptation to cold environments.

Supervision and training

The project will use a multi-faceted approach and will provide the student with training in:

  • molecular techniques - DNA extraction from environmental samples and algae isolates, PCR, Sanger and high throughput sequencing.
  • culture isolation techniques 
  • microscopy and taxonomic of cyanobacteria
  • statistical microbial community analysis techniques
  • oximetry and high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC).
  • genomic and bioinformatic analysis - including sequence quality and genome assembly, BLAST search MGRAST, microbial community structure analysis.

The student will spend 70% of the time at the Natural History Museum to carry out molecular laboratory work and receive training in bioinformatics, microbial community and genomics analysis. Experimental work including growth experiments, HPLC and microelectrode analysis will require the students to spend 30% of the duration of the project at Bristol University.


Cyanobacteria-dominated microbial mats collected across Antarctica and Arctic as well as historic museum collections will be assessed using environmental DNA, 16S and 18S rRNA gene high throughput sequencing, bioinformatics and community structure analysis techniques.

New cyanobacteria strains will be isolated from environmental samples. Laboratory-based manipulation growth experiments and physiological measurements such as photosynthesis rates will be performed and assessed for pigment and secondary metabolite production.

Comparative genomics will be applied to evaluate the genomics bases and genes linked to adaption to cold environments.

The findings will also help to get a better understanding on the resistance and resilience of cyanobacteria and cyanobacteria-based microbial communities in Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems. 



Cyanobacteria are gram-negative oxygenic phototrophic bacteria that evolved approximately 2.5 billion years ago and have a long history of shaping biogeochemical ecosystems and biodiversity on Earth. Cyanobacteria were the first organisms to evolve oxygenic photosynthesis leading to the Great Oxygenation.

Cyanobacteria can be found in aquatic, terrestrial and marine environments worldwide, however they are especially successful in extreme habitats such as Antarctic and Arctic freshwater ecosystems.

In these habitats, cold temperatures are often accompanied by freeze-thaw cycles, extreme fluctuations in irradiance including ultraviolet radiation, and large variations in nutrient supply and salinity.  Complex cyanobacteria-dominated microbial mat communities form in these conditions, which are the most important primary producers and drivers of food webs and carbon cycling.

However, the diversity and biogeography of cyanobacteria and adaptation mechanisms to environmental stress are not well understood yet.


The project would suit a candidate interested in polar microbiology, phycology, freshwater ecology and bioinformatics. It would be good for the proposed PhD project to have some experience in molecular techniques and sequence analysis.

Studentships are open to UK and other EU students (other nationalities eg EEA countries may be eligible and students should enquire with the project’s respective postgraduate administrations to see if they qualify for home fee rates).  Up to nine studentships are available to EU students who do not ordinarily reside in the UK (please note that this may be subject to change pending post EU referendum discussions).  All applicants need to comply with the registered university’s English language requirements.

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a Master’s degree. Applicants with a minimum Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

How to apply

Applications for the PhD are processed through the Natural History Museum.

To apply please send the following documents to the Postgraduate Office at

  • Curriculum vitae.
  • Covering letter outlining your interest in the PhD position, relevant skills training, experience and qualifications for the research, and a statement of how this PhD project fits your career development plans.
  • Two academic referees.

The deadline for applications is 7 January 2018.


Co-supervisor: Dr Gary Barker

Any questions?

If you have any questions about the project please contact

Main supervisor: Dr Anne Jungblut


Co-supervisor: Dr Gary Barker


Jungblut AD, Vincent WF (2017) Cyanobacteria in polar and alpine ecosystems, In: Psychrophiles: from biodiversity to biotechnology, Margesin R (Eds). Springer International Publishing. 181-206.

Jungblut A, Lovejoy C and Vincent, W. (2010). Global distribution of cyanobacterial ecotypes in the cold biosphere. ISME J4: 191-202.

Jungblut AD, Hawes I (2017) Using Captain Scott's Discovery specimens to unlock the past: has Antarctic cyanobacterial diversity changed over the last 100 years? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences284 (1857): 20170833-20170833. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0833

Pointing SB, Büdel B, Convey P, Gillman LN, Köner C, Leuzinger S, Vincent WF (2015) Biogeography of photoautotrophs in the high polar biomes, Frontiers in Plant Science 6: Article 692.

Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships between the Natural History Museum and the Great Western Four, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities.

Funded by 

Submit your application