How does seawater influx elicit compositional and functional changes in plant associated microbial communities?

Damien Rivett recounts Lewis Browett's experience with an MRes during the project, support by SfAM's Small Research Projects and Equipment Fund.

Undertaking an MRes over the pandemic has been difficult to say the least. Lewis experienced closure of the labs, delaying his research and removal of internal funds. The SfAM award provided a much needed boost for Lewis in terms of morale and confidence in the project. The financial aid allowed him to undertake sequencing of his experiment, providing him with new skills (both laboratory and analytical) and elevating the quality of the work. Unfortunately, due to a laboratory move and periods of self-isolation on the part of both Lewis, the sequencing technician and the PDRA helping with the project, the run is yet to be sequenced! I anticipate this happening before the end of the summer (libraries have been prepared and quality checked) to facilitate the publication of the project. We envision the sequencing data will provide the final piece of the puzzle between the changing environmental parameters and the functional outputs detected from the microbial communities. Uncovering the degree of resistance, and resilience, of the bacterial and fungal communities to the flooding stress. Our data already suggests that, functionally, the effect of flooding was dependent on previous exposure to the saltwater, with naïve soils diverting to an alternative state with as little as 1 hour’s exposure time. The sequencing will provide Lewis with an extremely exciting culmination of his Master’s thesis, with the aim of publications targeting Environmental Microbiology and Microbial Ecology.

This extra experience in the laboratory, combined with the opportunity proffered by the Society in the form of the ECS Symposium in which Lewis presented his work, has resulted in Lewis being shortlisted for interview for a PhD position. He has also stated that “this opportunity, from both the presentation and research experience, has given me the confidence and drive to further develop a career into academia”.

As supervisor, this award has given me the initial research capital to conduct solid experimental work that can be properly analysed to a publication standard. This will increase my reputation as a senior author. This funding has also provided some much needed research stability during a highly turbulent time when internal funds were withdrawn and the future seemed uncertain. Further, as a new PI (<3 years at the time of award), working on one of my first projects, this funding has given me the confidence in my ability to identify problems that are pertinent to the applied microbiology community. This award has also established collaborations, both internally, and externally. One unexpected benefit from this work, only possible through the sequencing this award paid for, was the generation of pilot data for a larger grant on the impact of flooding on the remodelling of microbial communities in restored saltmarsh. Finally, the generation of the sequencing data, and the resulting manuscripts currently in preparation, as allowed other members of the wider group to be involved in the generation of data, increasing the cohesiveness of the group, and accelerating the careers (through authorships) of at least one other member of the research group, not previously associated with the research.


Damien Rivett

Manchester Metropolitan University