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Amy Russell

Leverhulme-funded PhD student

My project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust as part of the Critical Decade for Climate Change programme. I am part of an interdisciplinary cohort of researchers focused on understanding the paradigm shifts needed to create ‘responses to climate change at the necessary scale and urgency’.


I completed a Chemistry MSci (Hons) degree at the University of Bristol (UoB) in 2016. My final year project was in Prof. Dek Woolfson’s lab, expressing de novo alpha-helical barrel proteins in Escherichia coli. I was inspired by the power of biotechnology and microbes, though I entered some ‘wilderness years’. I looked to balance my views of science with the needs of the planet and people, by working in community and nature-based projects. Finding hope in the ubiquity of microbes within ecosystem and human-based problems, I undertook an MRes project in Dr. Tom Williams lab (UoB) to study the evolution and diversity of bacteria using bioinformatic tools.



Wetland habitats are, and have been, systematically drained to access fertile soils for farming, to harvest peat, and to rear livestock. The destruction of these habitats has degraded the soil and turned carbon sinks into carbon sources. As governments scramble to meet global commitments to emissions , there is a push towards sustainable land use and land re-wetting to prevent further emissions from degraded wetland and peatland soils. However, this is almost exclusively based on CO2 emissions, and rarely considers methane, and almost never nitrous oxide. To successfully rely on ‘nature based solutions’ to offset residual carbon emissions, we must develop robust models of how ecosystems will change in response to climate change. Understanding the microbial drivers and processes within these systems is essential to developing more accurate emissions estimates for current and future climates.


In a recent metagenomics study, Bahram et al. (2022) found a correlation between ammonia oxidising archaea and nitrous oxide emissions, in wetland habitats. Through my project I hope to prove that this link is causation, as well as correlation. I probe soil microcosm samples and pure cultures of representative microorganisms using isotopic tracers and specific ammonia oxidation inhibitor molecules. I hope to better understand: in which microbes, at which point in the nitrogen cycle, and under which climatic conditions, nitrous oxide gas is produced in wetland habitats.


Bahram, M., Espenberg, M., Pärn, J. et al. Structure and function of the soil microbiome underlying N2O emissions from global wetlands. Nat Commun 13, 1430 (2022).


Amy Russell

School of Biological Sciences

University of East Anglia

Norwich Research Park

Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK


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