Tuesday, 22 January 2019 16:07

Postgraduate opportunities at UKZN: Accelerated Coral Evolution

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UKZN twitter logo.width 800.width 800Climate-induced coral bleaching is considered an existential threat to coral reefs globally and is exacerbated by other stressors, including coral diseases. Some corals are more resistant to bleaching than others, for reasons that include genetic variability among colonies, species and locations or gene expression. An evolutionary perspective is therefore integral to understanding resilience in corals. The ability of corals to resist bleaching and disease is additionally dependent on maintaining a healthy microbiome (assemblage of microorganisms, including algae, other protists, bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses). While the importance of endosymbiotic microbes in coral health is well known, the effect of temperature on coral-associated bacterial diversity is not fully understood. The many interactions between the coral animal and all its symbionts provide many opportunities for adaptation to changing environments and there is some evidence that corals may adapt to climate change. However, it is recognised that they are unlikely to naturally adapt fast enough to avoid catastrophic loss of species and populations. 

Our research programme at UKZN and the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) in Durban will, therefore, focus on ‘accelerated’ coral evolution to increase the rate and scope of adaptation. To this end, we invite applications for four PhD and two MSc projects as outlined below to investigate aspects of resilience of corals to thermal stress. We are looking for motivated, self-driven students with a keen interest in contributing to understanding of global coral health.

Studentships have standard NRF bursaries attached. These are R90 000 per annum for an MSc and R120 000 per annum for a PhD. All applicants for PhD projects must be in possession of an MSc or SAQA equivalent in the requisite topics. All applicants for MSc projects must be in possession of a BSc honours degree or SAQA equivalent.

Applications for all projects should include a CV, proof of qualifications, academic record, a cover letter stating how you meet the requirements for the project and the names of two academic referees. Applications or enquiries should be directed to the person whose details are listed under each project. The deadline for applications is 21st January 2019. The researchers reserve the right not to appoint students if no suitable applications are received.

1) Investigation of the coral prokaryotic microbiome:

PhD Project:
The PhD project will entail a metagenomic approach to understanding coral-associated bacterial population shifts following thermal bleaching events. The candidate would investigate bacterial diversity as well as variation in selected functional genes following exposure to varying temperatures. Candidates with a background in Bioinformatics and Microbiology would be preferred.

MSc:
The Masters project will entail culturing and identifying coral-associated bacteria following exposure to varying temperature events. This would be followed by investigating their antimicrobial potential against selected coral pathogens. Candidates with a background in Microbiology and interest in Marine Biology would be preferred.

Candidates with an interest in Microbiology, Bioinformatics, Marine Biology are invited to apply for the following studies in 2019:

Please submit a detailed cover letter, comprehensive CV, certified academic record and contact details for two referees to Dr. Hafizah Chenia (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). Based on above, students will be contacted for interviews before selection is made.

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