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Postgraduate research project

Molecular basis and ecological significance of Saccharomyces wine yeast interactions with microbes, plants and insects

Fully funded (UK only)
Type of degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Entry requirements
UK 2:1 honours degree View full entry requirements
Faculty graduate school
Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences
Closing date

About the project

Saccharomyces yeast is an outstanding model eukaryote for research and a workhorse of fermentations. Advanced techniques in microbiology, genetics, ecology and analytical chemistry will be used to deepen our understanding of yeast’s coevolution and interactions with other organisms, how it benefits from these and could be tailored for various bioprocesses.

This research involving Saccharomyces cerevisiae provides an excellent training that will equip the graduate with highly transferable skills, relevant in other ‘yeast’ labs or biological systems. 

Saccharomyces was the first sequenced eukaryote and comes with many indispensable tools for exploring genetic and subcellular mechanisms. This yeast is also used in the multi-billion-dollar fermentation industries and is found in nature. 

Despite its importance, the significance of elements of yeast’s metabolism, its natural ecology and interactions with other microbes, plants and insects isn’t fully understood. For example, yeast produce volatiles that we find pleasing in fermented products such as wine, but this production probably evolved for another purpose, not our benefit. 

It seems to have arisen:

  1. to attract insects (e.g., the vinegar fly, Drosophila melanogaster) to vector the non-motile yeast to fresh nutrient-rich niches and/or 
  2. to signal the switch from the planktonic yeast cell state to forming chains that spread across or invade solid growth media to ‘forage’ for nutrients

This study seeks to: 

  1. identify new yeast signaling mechanisms 
  2. identify the precise triggers for the switch in yeast cell morphology
  3. see how different morphologies aid survival, vectoring and competition in mixed microbial populations

The project will involve diverse techniques including field isolation of microbes and their genetic modification, transcriptomics, bioinformatics, microscopy and analytical chemistry (GC-MS, HPLC). The findings will provide insight into fundamental processes of Saccharomyces and its pathogenic relatives along with likely applications in the multi-billion-dollar fermentation industries and development of bioprotection treatments in food and agriculture.