BSc Marine Biology, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
PhD University of Stirling
My PhD and Postdoctoral research on the genetics of nitrogen assimilation in marine bacteria highlighted two major new ideas. Firstly, contrary to the prevailing dogma, the presence of ammonium does not inhibit the assimilation of other forms of nitrogen such as nitrate and dissolved nitrogen gas in many marine cyanobacteria and bacteria. This enables assimilation of new N into the food web despite the rapid recycling of ammonium. Secondly, my research also demonstrated that nitrogen-fixing bacteria are abundant in seawater. This was the first demonstration that numerous taxonomically diverse bacteria are capable of nitrogen fixation. Previously, only a small number of cyanobacteria were thought to carry out this important process.
My current research targets marine protists (single-celled animals) called foraminifera. These organisms record, in their chalk shells, the environmental conditions in which they live. These same shells form a fossil record going back millions of years which enable us to reconstruct past oceanic conditions.
My interests lie in utilising genomics to understand the biology and ecology of the planktonic foraminifera, their trophic interactions and their capacity to survive environmental change. The methods I have developed have led to the discovery of new trophic interactions between foraminifera and bacteria and kleptoplastic behaviour in planktonic foraminifera.