Michael Cunliffe

Academic profile

Professor Michael Cunliffe

Professor of Marine Microbiology
School of Biological and Marine Sciences (Faculty of Science and Engineering)

The Global Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. Michael's work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

Goal 04: SDG 4 - Quality EducationGoal 06: SDG 6 - Clean Water and SanitationGoal 14: SDG 14 - Life Below Water

About Michael

I received a degree in environmental biology from the University of Liverpool, and a MSc and PhD in Microbiology from the University of Manchester. After a postdoc at the University of Warwick, I joined the Marine Biological Association (MBA) in 2010 as a MBA Research Fellow (Group Leader). In 2014, I started a joint appointment between the MBA and the University of Plymouth, where I am currently a MBA Senior Research Fellow and Professor of Marine Microbiology in the School of Biological and Marine Sciences.

I create knowledge through research and communicate knowledge through teaching, outreach and knowledge exchange activities. I lead a diverse research group who study a range of topics in microbial biology, ecology, and evolution. Our research group works both in the lab and out in the marine environment, locally around Plymouth and in distant locations, including polar regions and the open ocean.

Supervised Research Degrees

PhD students as Primary Supervisor / Director of Studies (current)
•    Poppy Diver “Integrating marine fungi into the structure and function of pelagic ecosystems” Funded via NERC INSPIRE DTP.
•    Emily Cooper “Marine Fungi and the Biological Pump – a quest for novel biomarkers of key players in the carbon cycle” Funded via University of Plymouth. 
•    Beth Tindall-Jones “The biology and biotechnological potential of marine fungi bioprocessing” Funded via BBSRC SWBio DTP. 

PhD students as Primary Supervisor / Director of Studies (completed)
•    Kimberley Bird “Marine microbial ecology – from the coastal sea to the open ocean” Funded via NERC EnvEast DTP.
•    Harriet Dale “Microbial-invertebrate interactions in marine sediment ecosystems” Funded via NERC SPITFIRE DTP.
•    Davis Laundon “Towards a quantitative understanding of chytrid cellular development” Funded via NERC EnvEast DTP. 
•    Cordelia Roberts “Functional biology and ecology of aquatic fungi” Funded via NERC ARIES DTP.


I have a student-centred approach to teaching and a passion for research-informed teaching. I work across all levels, from the foundation year to postgraduate. My major teaching interests are in marine microbiology, marine biology, ecology, evolution and diversity. 

MRes Marine Biology – various lectures, tutorials, practicals and assignments:


  • MBAM5106 Advanced Marine Biology (ModuleLead)
  • MBAM5107 Molecular and Cellular Marine Biology (ModuleLead)
  • MBAM5110 Ecology and Conservation (ModuleLead)


BSc Marine Biology programmes – various lectures, tutorials, assignments and exams:


  • BIOL322 Aquatic Microbial Ecology
  • MBIO341 Biological Oceanography
  • MBIO001 Issues in Marine Biology
  • MBIO120 Introduction to Marine Biology
  • MBIO162 Biodiversity

Contact Michael

Room 425, 22 Portland Square, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA
+44 1752 584494