Microbial evolution to environmental change: The response of a model Bacteroidetes community to the challenge of novel polysaccharide energy sources


Bacterial adaptation to changing conditions is commonly investigated over long timescales (evolution of species/lineages), focusing on strong pressures provided by toxic substances (antimicrobials) or predators (bacteriophages/macrophages). However, new bacterial niches emerge through anthropogenic shaping of the environment and include exposure to new energy sources. To understand such bacterial adaptation, relevant to macroscopic events that include climate change or flooding events, it is essential to correlate them with the molecular mechanisms involved.


We will exploit our already established protocols to synthesize novel polysaccharides (NPs; structures not found in nature) to understand how a model bacterial community evolves to utilise a new energy source. There are three aims:

1) Bacterial growth on NPs comprising both entirely novel and minor modifications of existing polysaccharide energy sources; testing mono-cultures and communities. This minimises risk by providing opportunities to study both gradual adaptation (increasing selection), or sharp changes (evolutionary bottleneck) using a broad spectrum of in-house bacterial isolates (Bacteroidetes; ~30 species), many of which possess extensive carbohydrate processing machinery.

2) Whole genome sequencing will reveal the genetic adaptations which lead to increased fitness.

3) Gene products will be probed at the molecular level to understand these adaptations.

Novelty and Timeliness:

The environmental effects of climate change, global urbanisation and its attendant pollution, are often considered on the macrobiological scale, but also drastically impact microbial niches.

Our proposal investigates the underlying principles involved in microbial adaptation to new energy sources in the form of polysaccharides and will provide insights into the flexibility and evolutionary capabilities of the metabolic networks involved. Understanding the global processes that occur will pave the way to exploiting them or designing methods for their alleviation.


Notes and details of how to apply are available here: https://accedtp.ac.uk/acce-dtp-phd-opportunities-at-university-of-liverpool/

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Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2023.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2022/23 UKRI rate £17,668)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2022/23 rate £4,596)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees (£4,596 at 2022/23 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2022/23 entry were £25,950 (full time) per annum.



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