Name: Harry Harvey
Project title: Impact of soil structure on microbial responses to environmental change.
Where based: University of Nottingham
During my undergraduate degree at the University of Nottingham I developed a fascination for the interaction between microorganisms and their environment. My dissertation assessed the survival of sexual and asexual fungal spores in response to heat stress and gamma irradiation in strains from differing environmental backgrounds. During my degree, I conducted a research project funded by the Microbiology Society which involved determining the secretion dynamics of effector proteins of pathogenic E. coli in specific host niches.
Environmental change and perturbation due to human activities can have devastating impacts on essential activities in soils, like biogeochemical cycling, that are essential to the earth’s ecosystem functions. However, the influence of key physical variables like soil structure (“the soil phenotype”) on ecosystem responses to such perturbations is very poorly understood. Microorganisms drive biogeochemical cycles in soils and provide ideal, tractable indicators of soil ecosystem function. A major biological factor known to promote microbial resilience to soil perturbations is variation, as variant organisms may be better adapted to the altered conditions. Recent breakthroughs have established a novel form of biological variation that promotes microbial survival in soil systems; that is, phenotypic variation between individual cells that have the same DNA composition. It is now widely accepted that this variation within genetically-uniform populations (non-genotypic heterogeneity, NGH), is important for microbial survival in soils. The major challenge now is to understand how the type of soil environment may alter the impact of NGH on microbial survival over time.