Nello Gregori

University of Warwick


Microbial communities cycling organic sulphur compounds in the polar regions


Dr Hendrik Schäfer (University of Warwick), Dr Yin Chen (University of Warwick), Prof Jonathan Todd (University of East Anglia)

PhD Summary

Phototrophic algae and heterotrophic bacteria have colonised some of the harshest environments in the world and are driving major biogeochemical processes, such as the production and degradation of atmospheric trace gases. The organic sulfur compound dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), an osmolyte, antioxidant, nutrient, and signalling molecule is produced by a wide range of microorganisms including phytoplankton and bacteria. Its microbial degradation by DMSP-lyases produces the volatile compound dimethylsulfide (DMS). DMS is an aerosol precursor to cloud condensation nuclei, which is integral to climate feedback systems. Climate change is causing environmental perturbations across the globe, with the polar regions, where large quantities of DMSP are produced, being the most severely affected. It is unknown how these environmental perturbations will impact polar microbial communities, and their role in DMSP and DMS cycling. Thus, the objectives of this project are threefold: (i) isolation of polar model microorganisms involved in DMSP and DMS cycling. (ii) examine the effect of environmental perturbations on model communities, specifically algal-bacterial interactions, and their role in the sulfur cycle. (iii) investigate the in situ response to shifting environmental conditions using metagenomics and stable isotope probes. Unravelling the relationships between algae and bacteria in the polar region, and how this relationship will react to the rapidly changing environment, will provide an insight into climate feedback loops and what community shifts we may see in the future.

What inspires you?

My mother says that from a young age I was “always mucking about outside” and, unfortunately has the pictures to prove it. Whether it was eating dirt, or helping my grandparents in the garden - the natural world captivates me. So, why change? Luckily, I have ditched eating dirt for studying microorganisms’ roles in the environment.

Previous Activity

After graduating from my undergraduate degree at the University of Bath, I worked in industry at Thermo Fisher Scientific, however I missed the investigative nature of research. Thus, I took a position at the University of Warwick as a research technician. This entailed organising the health and safety for the lab, carrying out a bioinformatic project, and sample preparation for 13C and phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) analysis.

Why did you choose Docotoral Research?

Microbiology fascinates me and how these tiny organisms play such a gigantic role in how our world works, blows my mind. Why wouldn’t I want to spend the next 4 years researching them?

Why did you choose a CENTA Studentship?

The interdisciplinary nature of the training and the wide breadth of fellow PhD projects, all linked together by the differing aspects of the environment.

What are your future plans

Whether I end up in academia or industry, the skills I learn from my PhD at the University of Warwick and the CENTA programme will be invaluable. I know I want to stay in some form of environmental context and the training gained from this DTP will give me the ability to excel.