Emma Johnstone

University of Warwick


Resilience of Microbial Communities to Extreme Weather


Gary Bending, Chris van der Gast and Niall McNamara

PhD Summary

The soil directly next to and surrounding plant roots contains a multitude of microbes which is known as the root ‘microbiome’. These microbes exist in communities which include prokaryotes such as bacteria and protozoa and eukaryotes such as nematodes and fungi. Root microbial communities are formed by selective recruitment from a wide range of diverse communities due to root exudates. Recruited microbes interact with the plant in a plethora of ways. Some microbes are advantageous to the plant and can help in plant growth or defence, while others are deleterious to the plant and can lead to disease or hindered growth. Root microbes are also part of important nutrient cycles such as the carbon and nitrogen cycles and can produce greenhouse gases such as CO2, N2O and CH4. As extreme weather events, such as flooding and drought, are likely to increase in frequency as climate change continues the aim of my project is to understand how these extreme weather events effect the functioning, structure and plant interactions of root microbial communities.

What inspires you?

Ever since I can remember I was interested in the biological world and eager to learn about it. My mother, being a microbiologist herself, was always keen to answer my questions and foster my interest with ant farms to owl pellets.

Previous Activity

I completed my BSc in Biology at Imperial College London. During my undergraduate degree I took part in internships with my university assessing the abiotic and biotic factors which contribute to microbial community assembly. I then worked on my own final year project which explored factors effecting small scale spatial patterns in microbial communities. After my BSc I did my MSc in Soils and Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh. My Masters project investigated how trophic interactions within microbial communities can promote plant growth.

Why did you choose Docotoral Research?

I have always loved being involved with research. My fondest days from my undergraduate degree took place during the summer when I was part of long term research projects. I knew from early on that I wanted to be the one leading experiments and uncovering new information!

Why did you choose a CENTA Studentship?

Primarily I was interested in my project for the topic but I am also glad that I am on a CENTA studentship. I believe that CENTA will provide me with a wealth of opportunities through training and networking events.

What are your future plans

I think that studying at Warwick on a CENTA studentship will give me a huge amount of knowledge about my topic and a wide variety of skills that I can use in and outside of the lab. After completing my PhD, I hope to move on to a postdoctoral position and continue in academia.