Division of
Natural and Applied Sciences

Graduate Opportunities: Understanding and Modifying Microbial Niche Breadth

I am looking for M.Sc. or Ph.D. students to begin in the lab in 2024. Projects can focus on the fundamental and/or applied consequences of microbial niche breadth. Fundamentally, microbial compatibility with various environments helps to determine microbial biogeography. While a broad environmental range may provide benefits to a microbe, there are likely costs to carrying more survival traits; however, we know little about the relative costs of different types of generalism (e.g. resource generalists vs. thermal generalists). From an applied perspective, understanding the factors that shape the niche breadth of microorganisms can help us in designing more effective microbial inoculants, for agriculture and otherwise. Such inoculants are promising alternatives to chemical additives, such as inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, but are still largely unpredictable in field settings. 
 
Project development will depend on a combination of lab needs and student interests, but I expect most student projects will contribute to one of the following three areas: 
 
1. Environmental filtering to collect microbes with unique ecological traits 
2. Directed evolution to modify microbial niche breadth 
3. Modification of environmental stressors and opportunities to affect in-field microbial survival and function 
 
To date, I have worked with an amazing and diverse group and appreciate the value that many types of diversity have brought to our work. This includes, but is not limited to, diversity in academic training, problem-solving approaches, and personal backgrounds and experiences.  


Baseline funding will reflect standards in the particular graduate program that the student applies to. Students may either apply to the M.Sc. or Ph.D. programs in Environmental Science or in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. 
 
If interested, please send a CV, a letter of interest, unofficial transcripts, and contact info for 3 references to terrence.bell@utoronto.ca. Note that I receive many unfocused supervision requests every day, so will only respond to messages that demonstrate genuine interest in our research. 
 
Information on the Department can be found here: https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/physsci/ 
 
*While I encourage anyone to express interest, admissions for international graduate students (those who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents) will be extremely competitive because of program funding structures.