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Professor David Scanlan



Phone: 024 765 28363

Office: B123

Scanlan webpage

Research Clusters

Environment & Ecology

Microbiology & Infectious Disease

Vacancies and Opportunities

For PhD and postdoctoral opportunities, and interest in potential collaborations, please contact me at the above email address.

Research Interests

The oceans play a major role in determining world climate. In part, this is due to the production of oxygen and the consumption of carbon dioxide (CO2) by very small, single celled organisms, which are referred to as the photosynthetic picoplankton. Marine cyanobacteria of the closely-related genera Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus are the prokaryotic components of the photosynthetic picoplankton and are the two most abundant phototrophs on Earth! By fixing CO2 from the atmosphere into biomass these organisms act as a sink for this key greenhouse gas. This process of carbon (C) sequestration, known as the biological C pump, is the greatest form of natural capital we possess in the fight against climate change.

Whilst these cyanobacteria are continually growing and dividing, several factors control the rate at which they grow, and hence the amount of CO2 that is fixed through photosynthesis. These include biotic factors like viral infection but also abiotic factors like the availability of nutrients.

My group thus has several main areas of research elucidating

  • How viral infection affects photosynthesis and more generally cyanobacterial metabolism
  • The molecular genetics of nutrient assimilation and regulation in cyanobacteria
  • The physiological consequences of lipid remodelling in marine bacteria and bacterial pathogens
  • How cyanobacteria sense environmental stimuli
  • Light regulation of gene expression in cyanobacteria and eukaryotic algae
  • Community structure and niche adaptation mechanisms in marine cyanobacteria

Research: Technical Summary

Around half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) fixation on Earth occurs in marine systems, environments dominated by the cyanobacterial genera Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus. My lab focuses on establishing the environmental factors controlling photosynthesis and CO2 fixation in these organisms using techniques ranging from the molecular ecological through to biochemistry, photophysiology and cell biology and onto ‘omics studies of gene expression in wild type and knockout mutant strains. We are particularly interested in viruses infecting these organisms (cyanophages) that can divert the flow of an estimated 20% of globally fixed CO2.

My lab has shown that cyanophage can directly inhibit host CO2 fixation capacity whilst at the same time carry genes essential for the light-driven reactions of photosynthesis. We are currently investigating the mechanism of inhibition of host CO2 fixation which involves a novel protein based mechanism. We are also directly assessing CO2 fixation rates in viral infected cells requiring the development of innovative approaches to manipulate cyanophage genomes. By focusing on how viral infection controls CO2 fixation under environmentally relevant light and nutrient conditions, we aim to tackle novel concepts associated with elemental stoichiometry and pseudolysogeny and provide host mortality estimates which will directly inform and refine global primary production ecosystem models. In parallel work we are also investigating how membrane lipid remodelling under nutrient-limited growth affects CO2 fixation capacity. In so doing, we will contribute new biological theory into how CO2 fixation is controlled at the global scale. Thus, I will be able to determine how viruses on the one hand and lipid remodelling on the other, modulate primary production in organisms that are the most abundant phototrophs on the planet and whose abundance is expected to increase by 15-30% at the end of the 21st century due to global warming. By building innovative research directions on a solid foundation of host physiology and genomics we aim to contribute new understanding of photosynthesis and metabolism as subverted by cyanophage and nutrient status. This has crucial implications for our understanding of marine carbon cycling and ultimately the planet’s climate and mayl provide novel genetic approaches for manipulating photosynthesis allowing for their potential exploitation in energy generation.

  • Professor Warwick 2007-current
  • Reader Warwick 2004-2007
  • Lecturer Warwick 2003-2004
  • Royal Society URF Warwick 1995-2003
  • NERC and AFRC PDRA 1988-1995
  • Royal Society Exchange Fellow Paris 1988
  • PhD Microbiology University of Durham 1988