World-Leading St Andrews Scholarship in Earth Sciences and Chemistry
The University of St Andrews is pleased to offer a full scholarship funded by St Leonard’s Postgraduate College, to support an exceptional student undertaking doctoral research in the following project:
The Roles of Lipids in Coral Biomineralisation and the Effects of Future Climate Change
Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems and are of substantial economic importance in terms of fisheries, tourism and coastal protection. Understanding the coral biomineralisation process is key to predicting the impacts of increasing seawater temperatures and pCO2 (e.g. ocean acidification) on future reef development. To date, most research in this field has explored how anthropogenic changes in seawater affect the precipitation of aragonite, the calcium carbonate mineral used to build the coral skeleton. However coral skeletons are composite materials composed of both aragonite and organic materials including proteins, sugars and lipids. Very little is known about the roles of biomolecules in the precipitation process or how these will be affected by climate change.
This doctoral project will identify the roles of lipids in coral biomineralisation and determine how these will be affected by future climate change. Skeletal lipids are dominated by sterols and phospholipids and the latter may bind Ca2+ and act as templates for CaCO3 deposition. Lipids extracted from coral skeletons affect the crystal morphology and porosity of calcite (a second form of calcium carbonate) precipitated in vitro but the molecules responsible for this are unresolved.
Key study objectives are to:
- Investigate how skeletal lipids affect aragonite precipitation. The student will use apparatus in Dr Allison’s lab to precipitate aragonites in vitro under tightly controlled conditions. They will determine how different lipids affect the growth rate and crystal morphology of aragonite. The student will develop methods to deposit the lipids for study on the starting aragonite seed crystals and to ensure that they remain stable during the precipitation. Similar techniques have been developed in bone research but are yet to be applied in the broader biomineralisation field.
- Determine how skeletal lipids respond to future climate change. Our preliminary experiments indicate that the lipid composition of the coral tissues is affected by seawater pCO2. The student will determine quantitatively how the lipid compositions of coral skeletons are affected by both increasing seawater pCO2 and temperature using the coral samples cultured previously. Skeletal lipids will be extracted and the concentrations of specific lipid species determined by electrospray tandem mass spectrometry and gas chromatography mass spectrometry in Dr Smith’s lab.
- Predict how future climate change will affect the roles of lipids in biomineralisation. The student will precipitate aragonite in vitro under conditions inferred to occur at the coral calcification site in the present day and under future climate change. Both the pH and dissolved inorganic chemistry of the fluid at the coral calcification site decrease under future climate scenarios. These changes influence how other biomolecules, e.g. amino acids, affect aragonite precipitation. The student will alter the seawater chemistry and the concentrations and composition of lipids to reflect that observed in coral skeletons under future climate scenarios and will determine how these changes affect biomineralisation.
This project will determine how lipids influence aragonite precipitation and will identify how future climate change will affect the lipid role in tropical corals. The results of the study will have applications across a range of marine calcareous organisms.
Domicile for fee status
Level of study
Postgraduate Research (Doctoral)
Year of entry
2020-2021 academic year; applicants must be able to start their degree in September 2020.
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences and School of Chemistry
Applicants must not already (i) hold a doctoral degree; or (ii) be matriculated for a doctoral degree at the University of St Andrews or another institution.
What does it cover?
Duration of award
Up to 3.5 years. The successful candidate will be expected to have completed the doctorate degree by the end of the award term. The award term excludes the continuation period and any extension periods.
Value of award
The award covers full tuition fees for the award term as well as an annual stipend payable at the standard UK Research council rate (the 2019-2020 annual rate is £15,009).
Tuition or maintenance award
Tuition and maintenance.
About St Andrews
Doctoral Research at St Andrews
As a doctoral student at the University of St Andrews you will be part of a growing, vibrant, and intellectually stimulating postgraduate community. St Andrews is one of the leading research-intensive universities in the world and offers a postgraduate experience of remarkable richness.
St Leonard’s Postgraduate College is at the heart of the postgraduate community of St Andrews. The College supports all postgraduates and aims to provide opportunities for postgraduates to come together, socially and intellectually, and make new connections.
St Leonard’s Postgraduate College works closely with the Postgraduate Society which is one of the most active societies within the Students’ Association. All doctoral students are automatically welcomed into the Postgraduate Society when they join the University.
In addition to the research training that doctoral students complete in their home School, doctoral students at St Andrews have access to GRADskills – a free, comprehensive training programme to support their academic, professional, and personal development.
How to apply
- Apply for admission as a doctoral student. Please see the advice on Research programmes.
- After submitting the research application form in step 1, you will receive an email with a direct link to the Scholarships and Funding catalogue, where you can apply for the World-Leading St Andrews Scholarship.
- Enter the catalogue by following the link in the email and clicking View the scholarships and funding catalogue to apply.
- Select 2020/1 as the Academic Year and click Refresh list.
- Locate World-Leading St Andrews Doctoral Scholarships in the list of scholarships (using the filter box if necessary), click Apply and complete the application form.
- You can also use the catalogue to search and apply for other scholarships for which you are eligible.
As part of the scholarship application you will be required to upload a personal statement. This should serve as a cover letter for the research project application as a whole, and should include an outline of your suitability for the project and why the project interests you. Please include how you meet any specified project criteria, which can be found in the "Eligibility" and "Project Description" sections above.
Please contact email@example.com with any enquiries about the scholarship application process.
When do applications open?
Scholarship application deadline
16 January 2020
When should I apply for the scholarship?
Apply for the scholarship as soon as possible after you have applied for admission.
When will I hear if my application has been successful?
The outcome of your scholarship application will be available on "View my applications" in Scholarships and Funding by late January/early February 2020.