Our lab is funded to study the ability of marine phytoplankton to adapt to ocean acidification, and how these adaptations will impact the future ecology of the oceans.  We know that microbes evolve quickly, so it’s very likely that these important species will be able to adapt to changes in their environment fast enough to avoid the catastrophic problems anticipated for terrestrial macroscopic organisms like plants and animals. But HOW will they change? And will the adaptations that allow the microbes to thrive in the acidified ocean reverberate up through the food chain, leading to consequences for economically important species and/or biogeochemistry on a broader scale?

We have been conducting laboratory evolution experiments for the past 2 years, exposing populations of key phytoplankton species (Prochlorococcus, Synechococcus, diatoms, and coccolithophores) to either modern CO2 conditions or else projected year 2100 CO2 conditions.  We have previously characterized the physiological phenotypes of the ancestral strains, and we are now entering the stage of the project where we will isolate and characterize the evolved versions of those organisms.

We hope to recruit one or two PhD students to work on this project.  Students will use traditional culture work as well as molecular and genomic tools to discover how these organisms have responded to a future Earth scenario.  During the course of the dissertation, students will also work with modelers at MIT to make predictions about the impacts that these adaptations will have on the atmosphere and ecology of year 2100 Earth.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is a modern urban campus located in the heart of vibrant Birmingham, Alabama.  UAB is one of the premier public medical schools in the US, and as a consequence basic research labs like ours have access to state-of-the-art facilities in terms of next generation sequencing, microscopy, mass spectrometry, and so forth. Moreover, Alabama is a nexus for biotechnology, yielding many opportunities for networking and career advancement both in academic science and in private and public sector PhD-level employment.

UAB and MorrisLab are committed to providing a welcoming environment for all talented and curious people, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity, age, religion, family status, or political affiliation.  Competitive applicants will have research experience and at least one superior reference letter from a research mentor, in addition to meeting the GRE and GPA requirements for graduate study in the UAB Biology department.  Prospective applicants should send a letter of introduction and a CV to Dr. Morris at evolve@uab.edu.