Dr Alastair Skeffington

Lecturer in Environmental Genomics

Biological and Environmental Sciences Stirling

Dr Alastair Skeffington

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About me

About me

2023 - present: Lecturer, University of Stirling

2021 - 2023: Research fellow, University of Exeter

2021: Ray Lankester Fellow, The Marine Biological Association, Plymouth

2020: Researcher, Technishce Universitaet, Dresden

2014 - 2020: Alexander-von Humboldt fellow and post doctoral researcher, Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology, Potsdam, Germany

2008 - 2012: PhD in Plant Biochemistry, John Innes Centre

2004 - 2007: BA Natural Sciences, University of Cambridge


I am fascinated by molecular processes in the cells of plants, algae and microbes that have global-scale consequences for the natural environment. The tools I use to study these processes are a combination of "omics" experiments, bioinformatic methods, molecular biology / genetics and physiological experiment. I also particularly enjoy combining field work with molecular approaches.

Our lab currently active in the following research areas:

Biomineralization mechanisms in algae Inorganic minerals are formed by a range of eukaryotic and prokaryotic microorganism and have major influences on global biogeochemical cycles, climate and aquatic food webs. For example, diatom silica formation enhances marine carbon export to the deep ocean where it may be trapping in sediments for a long period of time. Coccolithophore calcite formation modulates ocean alkalinity, and so also influences the rate at which the ocean takes up carbon dioxide. Despite the importance of these processes, we have only a limited knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of mineral synthesis in most biomineralizing microbes. Furthermore, if we were to understand these mechanisms, we may be able to recapitulate the synthesis of complex nano-scale mineral morphologies in the design of novel materials for applications such as energy storage. We are currently engaged in research aiming to understand biomineralization mechanisms in diatoms and coccolithophores.

The role of algal resting stages in bloom formation Many groups of eukaryotic algae (including diatoms, haptophytes, chlorophytes and dinoflagellates) as well as cyanobacteria can form huge blooms in marine and freshwater environments in Scotland and around the globe. Such blooms strongly influence nutrient and carbon cycling in the water bodies as well as food chains and aquatic ecology. Occasionally blooms result in release of toxins that can have devastating consequences for ecosystems and aquaculture thereby endangering food security and human health. Despite the importance of blooms, we know little about the mechanisms of persistence of bloom-formers over the winter, and the nature of the cell populations from which blooms initiate. We are investigating the roles that algal resting stages in sediments play in bloom initiation processes.

Mechanisms of dormancy in algal resting stages Some algal species can survive for years, or even centuries, in sediments at the bottom of lakes, rivers and coastal waters. The mechanisms of dormancy and survival are poorly studied in many ecologically important species. In particular, we do not understand the cellular and biochemical adaptations that permit the cells to survive without light and in anoxic environments for so long. We are investigating these mechanisms in a range of species, and the insights we gain will inform the bigger picture of how cellular dormancy operates in Eukaryotes. Beyond understanding algal blooms, this knowledge may help understand dormancy processes in cancer cell and in the seeds of crops.

Subsurface geomicrobiology and Lithium biogeochemistry Even deep under the Earth’s surface, there is microbial life to be found. The metabolisms of these microbes play key roles in the cycling of elements in the Earth’s crust and in determining the elemental composition of groundwater. Lithium is an essential component of current battery technology needed to decarbonize the transport industry, and is found in large quantities in brines under the Earth’s surface, both in South America and closer to home in the UK. We are studying the roles that microorganisms may play in the cycling of Lithium in the subsurface. This is part of the Lithium for Future Technology project, working with the EM3 group at the University of Exeter.

Outputs (12)



Zackova Suchanova J, Bilcke G, Romanowska B, Fatlawi A, Pippel M, Skeffington A, Schroeder M, Vyverman W, Vandepoele K, Kröger N & Poulsen N (2023) Diatom adhesive trail proteins acquired by horizontal gene transfer from bacteria serve as primers for marine biofilm formation. Skeffington A (Researcher) New Phytologist, 240 (2). https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.19145