PhD in bacterial genetics: France

Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour (UPPA) offers a PhD position to work on a project: ” Genetic determinisms involved in mercury methylation by sulfate reducing bacteria”

Scientific Context

Mercury (Hg) is one of the major contaminants at the global scale. It is persistent, highly volatile and is able to convert into highly toxic methylmercury (CH3Hg or MeHg), a strong neurotoxic. The production of highly toxic methylmercury (MeHg) is mediated by microorganisms but little is known about the cellular and environmental mechanisms favoring MeHg production. Understanding the biotransformation processes of Hg by microorganisms is thus a key for Hg risk assessment in ecosystems and human health. A few years ago, Parks et al. (2013) identified two genes, hgcA and hgcB required for Hg methylation. However, strains carrying hgcAB genes produce methylmercury at different rates, partly depending on their physiological state and environmental parameters (Goñi-Urriza et al. 2015). Furthermore, our results coupled with other studies with different mercury concentrations suggest that mercury methylation can be regulated by the export and/or by the intracellular contents of mercury.

Objectives of the PhD

The main objective of this PhD thesis is to evaluate the role of various genes (involved in Hg recognition, methylation and export) in Hg methylation/demethylation.

Goñi-Urriza M, Corsellis Y, Lanceleur L, Tessier E, Gury J, Monperrus M, Guyoneaud R. 2015. Relationships between bacterial energetic metabolism, mercury methylation potential and hgcA / hgcB gene expression in Desulfovibrio dechloroacetivorans BerOc1. Environ Sci Pol Res 22, 13764.

Parks JM, Johs A, Podar M, Bridou R, Hurt Jr RA, Smith SD, Tomanicek SJ, Qian Y, Brown SD, Brandt CC, et al. 2013. The genetic basis for bacterial mercury methylation. Science 339: 1332-1335.


Laboratory : Institut des Sciences Analytiques et de Physico-chimie pour l’Environnement et les Matériaux (IPREM UMR 5254, Pau)

Laboratory profile: Analytical chemistry, mass spectrometry, X-ray absorption spectroscopy, Imaging, Microbiology, Physiology, Genetics, Microbial Ecology, Environmental Microbiology

PhD Supervisor: Marisol Goñi Urriza

The proposed PhD is part of the project ‘GO-BEAM’ (Go inside a bacterial cell methylating Mercury) funded by E2S-UPPA from 2018 to 2021. GO-BEAM, selected as a ‘Key Scientific Challenges E2S-UPPA’ ( is a collaborative and transdisciplinary project involving genetic microbiology, analytical chemistry, imaging and spectroscopy. The objective of the project is to improve the understanding of the Hg methylation/demethylayion processes at the cell level. 2 PhD and 1 Post-Doctorate are funded for the GO-BEAM project: PhD1 on analytical and imaging, PhD2 on genetic microbiology and physiological studies (the present proposition) and the Post-Doc on both imaging and spectroscopy. PhD1, PhD2 and Post-Doc will all start in 2018.

Scientific team: MP Isaure, M Goni, M Monperrus, B Khalfaoui-Hassani, R Guyoneaud, C. Gassie, 2 PhD students, 1 post-doc.

Work Place: IPREM, Pau, France

Starting date: October 2018

Duration: 3 years

Employer: Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour (UPPA)

Monthly salary before taxes: 1868 € (doctoral contract UPPAaccording to E2S Key scientific challenges project, including 96h of teaching during the three years)




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