Project EARTH-17-RR2: Optimising elements for life: exploring the expanse of the periodic table

Supervisor: Prof. Ros Rickaby

You may think that elements needed for nutrition of eukaryotes are all established and known from the usual candidates of the major CHONPS, and trace elements such as Fe, Zn and Cu. But have you ever pondered whether B is needed, or Li or Sr or Si? We know these elements have some biological purpose but are they essential? Similarly, are all elements that look like nutrients within the ocean, actually being used? Or being unavoidably taken into cells and then being managed by e.g. sequestration into non-toxic forms with the membrane or bound to phytochelatins hence the uptake parallels abundance of life and only “appears” to be a nutrient. This project aims to tackle these underlying questions of which elements are essential nutrients, and at what point they become toxins. The approach taken will involved culture of a broad range of organisms under controlled chemical conditions and then protein extraction and characterization. The student will be trained in molecular biological techniques, culture of algae and isotopic analysis.