Organic Geochemistry PhD opportunity Plymouth University UK

Life and death in the deep biosphere

DoS Dr Paul Sutton (, tel.: 01752 584553)
2nd Supervisor Dr Hayley Manners (, tel.: 01752 584730)
Applications are invited for a three-year PhD studentship. The studentship will start on January 1st 2017.
Project Description

Under some oil production conditions, unusual natural organic compounds in petroleum form hard deposits which block oil pipelines, leading to costly downtime. The compounds are so-called ‘H-shaped’ isoprenoid tetraacids and are of considerable interest to oil companies. We, with others, have elucidated the chemical structures and produced methods for the detection and measurement of the compounds, but little is known about their origins and geochemistry. Somewhat analogous compounds have been reported from thermophilic environments, such as hot springs and hydrothermal vents and in some thermophilic Archaea. The tetraacids are likely related to these. This suggests that the original compounds were synthesised at high temperatures. It is currently not known whether the tetraacids represent a signal from the time the organic matter was deposited, or a more recent signal of biological activity within the oil reservoir. Such compounds have not been detected in geological media such as sediments, but their presence in oils from widely-separated geographic regions hints at a common sedimentary (probably microbial) source. If this is the case, the compounds may be ‘chemical fossils’ of a deep biosphere. This PhD studentship will investigate this theory by analysis of our unique collections of crude oils, sediments and microbes (the latter in collaboration with experts in a university in Munich, Germany). The student will receive excellent training in crude oil and sediment analysis, including state-of-the-science methods available in our laboratories, such as Liquid Chromatography-Orbitrap-mass Spectrometry (Natural Environment Research Council facility).


Applicants should have (at least) a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant MSc or MRes qualification.

The studentship is one of 12 being advertised within the School of Geography Earth and Environmental Sciences with three candidates being selected for funding The studentship is supported for 3 years and includes full Home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £14,296 per annum. The studentship will only fully fund those applicants who are eligible for Home/EU fees with relevant qualifications. Applicants normally required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between the Home/EU and the overseas tuition fee rates (approximately £11,040 per annum).
If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Paul Sutton, . However, applications must be made in accordance with the details shown below.
General information about applying for a research degree at Plymouth University is available at:
You can apply via the online application form which can be found at: and click ‘Apply’.
Please mark it FAO Sharon Healy and clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship within the School of Geography, Earth & Environmental Science. Please attach a covering letter detailing your suitability for the studentship, a CV and 2 academic references.
For more information on the admissions process please contact Sharon Healy (
The closing date for applications is 12 noon on 4th November 2016. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview week beginning 14th November. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received an offer of a place by 11th November should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.

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