Algal Signalling and

Stress Physiology

Marine phytoplankton are the base of the marine food web, underpinning all other forms of marine life. These tiny algae must constantly respond to changes in their environment in order to survive. Our research focuses on two major groups of phytoplankton, the diatoms and the coccolithophores, which play an important role in the global carbon cycle. 

We are using single cell microscopy approaches to examine how these organisms respond to stressors such as light, temperature and salinity. We are also studying how these algae will respond to future changes in ocean pH and carbon dioxide, which are predicted to have a major impact on the biology of coccolithophores in particular. By understanding these cellular mechanisms, we can help to understand what determines the distribution of diatoms and coccolithophores in the global oceans and better predict how it may change in future oceans. 

Our Research Impacts


Coccolithophore sensitivity to ocean acidification 

Coccolithophores are major group of calcified algae that are threatened by future changes in ocean pH. We have shown that coccolithophores are particularly sensitive to ocean acidification because they need specialised mechanisms for regulating intracellular pH in order to calcify. 

Evolution of antioxidant defences in plants and algae

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for humans and an important antioxidant in plants and algae. We have shown that plants and algae evolved distinct pathways for vitamin C biosynthesis from animals. This allowed them to accumulate vitamin C to much higher levels in order to protect themselves against reactive oxygen species produced during photosynthesis. 

Key Publications

Alternative mechanisms for fast Na+/Ca2+ signalling in eukaryotes via a novel class of single-domain voltage-gated channels – Current Biology

Dynamic changes in carbonate chemistry in the microenvironment around single marine phytoplankton cells – Nature Communications

E

Reduced H+ channel activity disrupts pH homeostasis and calcification in coccolithophores at low ocean pH – PNAS


Our Team

Glen Wheeler

Dr Glen Wheeler

Senior Research Fellow

Dr Glen Wheeler

Senior Research Fellow

Glen Wheeler

glw@mba.ac.uk

I am a molecular cell biologist studying the physiology of marine phytoplankton and other algae. My group examines the mechanisms through which algae sense and respond to their environment, using advanced imaging techniques to visualise these processes in single cells. After studying for a degree in Biology at Nottingham University and a PhD in Plant Biochemistry at the University of Exeter, I moved to Plymouth to study the cell biology of marine algae, initially at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and then moving to the Marine Biological Association in 2014. In recent years, our research has examined how marine phytoplankton are able to respond to changes in salinity, temperature and nutrients. We are also particularly interested in the cell biology of coccolithophores, an important group of marine phytoplankton that have a major impact on the global carbon cycle through their ability to produce an external covering of calcium carbonate plates (coccoliths). By understanding how these algae respond to a changing environment, our research will help us better understand how marine ecosystems will be influenced by future changes in the Earth’s climate.

Research Group: Algal Signalling and Stress Physiology

Isobel Cole

Isobel Cole

PhD Student

Isobel Cole

PhD Student

Isobel Cole

isocol@mba.ac.uk

Andrea Highfield

Dr Andrea Highfield, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Dr Andrea Highfield, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Andrea Highfield

Email: ancba@mba.ac.uk

Matt Keys

Dr Matthew Keys

Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Dr Matthew Keys

Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Matt Keys

matkey@mba.ac.uk

I am a Post-Doctoral Research Assistant within the Wheeler Group. My research interests are broadly focused on the effects of climate change on marine phytoplankton, including how multiple stressors interact to impact physiological performance at the species level, and community structure, photosynthesis and carbon budgets at the population level. I studied for my PhD at Plymouth Marine Laboratory where my research focussed on the combined effects of elevated CO2 and temperature on natural phytoplankton community taxonomic composition and rates of photosynthetic carbon uptake. Following my PhD award in 2018, I worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Plymouth on a diatom project, investigating unique lipid signatures produced by the marine diatom Rhizosolenia setigera as a novel proxy for biomass estimates. During my Post-Doctoral project at the MBA I will be assessing how cell size constrains carbon uptake in marine diatoms. Using ion-selective microelectrodes, I am currently measuring dynamic changes in carbonate chemistry within the cell surface microenvironment of marine diatoms at the single cell level, across a range of cell sizes.

Ellie Murphy

Ellie Murphy

PhD Student

Ellie Murphy

PhD Student

Ellie Murphy

ellmur@mba.ac.uk

I am a PhD researcher in the Wheeler Group investigating calcium signalling in marine diatoms. Whilst it is known that calcium signalling is required to respond to stress signals in marine diatoms, the mechanisms by which they do this are largely unknown.

One aspect of my research is to enhance our understanding of calcium signalling mechanisms in the model pennate diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum. This involves use of fluorescent microscopy to examine the calcium-dependent processes within cells.

A second field on interest is reviewing the calcium signalling toolkit in various diatom species. This ‘toolkit’ comprises the numerous channels and pumps that are involved in calcium signalling pathways. The calcium toolkit varies between species, but few species have been examined in detail. I will be summarising this toolkit over a wider range of species and I hope to uncover some interesting patterns within this data.

Dr Trupti Gaikwad

Dr Trupti Prakash Gaikwad

Cell and Molecular Research Technician

Dr Trupti Prakash Gaikwad

Cell and Molecular Research Technician

Dr Trupti Gaikwad

trugai@mba.ac.uk

I joined the Marine Biological Association in October 2019. I am responsible for working with Dr Glen Wheeler with research projects – with help of molecular techniques I develop transgenic lines to understand the physiology of diatoms ( specifically Calcium signalling and redox signalling). My second responsibility is as Laboratory Manager for the Microscopy suites. Here I train and guide new staff and students on high spectral microscopes which involves super resolution confocal microscopes, Laser-capture microdissection and several other microscopes. I also maintain all ERC cultures in the laboratory. I am winner of Asian Women of Achievement Science Award 2020.

Daniela Sturm

Daniela Sturm

PhD Student

Daniela Sturm

PhD Student

Daniela Sturm

danstu@mba.ac.uk

I am a PhD Researcher studying marine phytoplankton biogeography and physiology which involves work on environmental samples as well as laboratory cultures. I am particularly interested in the cell biology of coccolithophores, an important group of marine phytoplankton that have a major impact on the global carbon cycle through their ability to produce an external covering of calcium carbonate plates. I aim to improve our understanding of coccolithophore physiology and their unique life cycle using -omics approaches, bioinformatics, advanced imaging techniques, and novel fluorimetry methods.

I have further spent considerable time at the Sars Centre for Marine Molecular Biology in Norway, where I studied the evolutionary origin of synapses and neurons by investigating nervous system development and characterizing neuronal proteins in the aboral organ of ctenophores.

I am broadly interested in all things marine and biology, as well as science outreach and policy. I love being outdoors and you can often find me training for the next half-marathon or on a multi-day hiking trip along the South-West coast of England

Twitter: @D_J_Sturm

Dr Susan Wharam

Dr Susie Wharam

Molecular Biology Technician

Dr Susie Wharam

Molecular Biology Technician

Dr Susan Wharam

suswha@mba.ac.uk