Dr Michael Cunliffe
Profiles

Dr Michael Cunliffe

Associate Professor in Marine Microbiology

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

Biography

Biography

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 University of Plymouth and MBA, where I am currently Associate Professor of Marine Microbiology in the School of Biological and Marine Sciences and a MBA Senior Research Fellow. 

I create knowledge through research and communicate knowledge through teaching, outreach and knowledge exchange activities. I study a range of topics in microbial biology, ecology, and evolution. I work both in the lab and out in the marine environment, locally around Plymouth and with samples collected from distant locations, including polar regions and the open ocean.

Qualifications

Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP), University of Plymouth

PhD Microbiology, University of Manchester

MSc Pollution and Environmental Control, University of Manchester

BSc (Hons) Environmental Biology, University of Liverpool

Teaching

Teaching

Teaching interests

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

Staff serving as external examiners

PhD External Examiner 

• Birthe Zäncker 2018 “Characterization of biogenic material and microorganisms of the surface microlayer in the ocean”. Based at GEOMAR (Germany), PhD registered at Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (Kiel University).
• Andrea Garvetto 2019 “Eukaryotic parasites of toxic and bloom-forming diatoms: molecular insights in their diversity and physiology”. Based at SAMS, PhD registered at University of the Highlands and Islands.
• Robyn Wright 2019 “Food or just a free ride? Exploring marine microbial community dynamics on natural and synthetic polymers” University of Warwick.
• Benjamin Gregson 2019 “Proteomic insights into the marine obligate hydrocarbonoclastic bacteria (OHCB) during alkane degradation” University of Essex.
• Christofer Osbecks 2019 “Exploring gene expression responses of marine bacteria to environmental factors” Linnaeus University (Sweden).
• Ahmed Nawaz 2020 “Microbial colonisation and degradation of plastic pollution in the marine environment” Open University.
• Anna Chiara Trano 2021 “Exploring marine bacterial communities with a focus on bacteria attached to particles” Based at Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn (Italy), PhD registered at Open University.
• Eleonora Silvano 2022 “Uncovering the biosynthetic pathway and function of unusual aminolipids found in the marine heterotrophic bacterium Ruegeria pomeroyi” University of Warwick.

Research

Research

Research interests

I study the biology, ecology and evolution of marine microorganisms. The interdisciplinary research combines a range of approaches to study microorganisms both in the field and laboratory. A major focus is to understand the mechanisms that underpin important biogeochemical processes conducted by marine microorganisms.

Current research includes:

  • Marine fungal ecology
  • Microbial ecology in the changing Arctic Ocean
  • Application of environmental DNA (eDNA) approaches to understand marine diversity
  • Biology and evolution of aquatic fungi
  • Particulate organic matter
  • Microbial Symbioses
  • Plastic-Microbial Interaction

Publications

Publications

Key publications

28. Cunliffe, M., Hollingsworth, A., Bain, C., and Taylor, J.D. (2017) Algal polysaccharide utilisation by saprotrophic planktonic marine fungi. Fungal Ecology 30: 135-138.

27. Smale D, Taylor J, Coombs S, Moore G, & Cunliffe M (2017) Community responses to seawater warming are conserved across diverse biological groupings and taxonomic resolutions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 284: 20170534.

26. Engel A, Bange HW, Cunliffe M et al (2017). The ocean’s vital skin: Towards an integrated understanding of the sea surface microlayer. Frontiers in Marine Science 4: 65.

25. Taylor JD & Cunliffe M (2017) Coastal bacterioplankton community response to diatom-derived polysaccharide microgels. Environmental Microbiology Reports 9: 151–157.

24. Taylor JD & Cunliffe M (2016) Multi-year assessment of coastal planktonic fungi reveals environmental drivers of diversity and abundance. The ISME Journal 10: 2118-2128.

23. Cunliffe M (2016) Purine catabolic pathway revealed by transcriptomics in the model marine bacterium Ruegeria pomeroyi DSS-3. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 92 (1): fiv150.

22. Taylor JD & Cunliffe M (2015) Polychaete burrows harbour distinct microbial communities in oil-contaminated coastal sediments. Environmental Microbiology Reports 7: 606–613.

21. Taylor JD, Ellis R, Milazzo M, Hall-Spencer JM & Cunliffe M (2015) Intertidal epilithic bacteria diversity changes along a naturally occurring carbon dioxide and pH gradient. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 89:670-678.

20. Taylor JD & Cunliffe M (2014) High-throughput sequencing reveals neustonic and planktonic protist diversity in coastal waters. Journal of Phycology 50: 960–965.

19. Brodie J, Cunliffe M et al (2014) The future of the northeast Atlantic benthic flora in a high CO2 world. Ecology and Evolution 4: 2787–2798.

18. Taylor JD, Cottingham SD, Billinge J & Cunliffe M (2014) Seasonal microbial community dynamics correlate with phytoplankton-derived polysaccharides in surface coastal waters. The ISME Journal 8: 245–248.

17. Kadar E, Cunliffe M, et al (2014) Chemical interaction of atmospheric mineral dust-derived nanoparticles with natural seawater - EPS and sunlight-mediated changes. The Science of the Total Environment 468-469: 265-271.

16. Cunliffe M (2013) Physiological and metabolic effects of carbon monoxide oxidation in the model marine bacterioplankton Ruegeria pomeroyi DSS-3. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 79: 738-740.

15. Cunliffe M et al (2013) Sea surface microlayers: A unified physicochemical and biological perspective of the air–ocean interface. Progress in Oceanography 109: 104-116.

14. Lidbury L, Johnson V, Hall-Spencer JM, Munn CB & Cunliffe M (2012) Community-level response of coastal microbial biofilms to ocean acidification in a natural carbon dioxide vent ecosystem. Marine Pollution Bulletin 64: 1063–1066. 

13. Boden R, Cunliffe M, et al (2011) Complete genome sequence of the aerobic marine methanotroph Methylomonas methanica MC09. Journal of Bacteriology 193 (24): 7001-7002.

12. Cunliffe M (2011) Correlating carbon monoxide oxidation with cox genes in the abundant Marine Roseobacter Clade. The ISME Journal 5: 685-691.

11. Lobelle D & Cunliffe M (2011) Early microbial biofilm formation on marine plastic debris. Marine Pollution Bulletin 62: 197-200.

10. Cunliffe M, Upstill-Goddard RC & Murrell JC (2011) Microbiology of aquatic surface microlayers. FEMS Microbiology Reviews 35 (2): 233-246.

9. Cunliffe M & Murrell JC (2010) Eukarya 18S rRNA gene diversity in the sea surface microlayer: insights on the structure of the neustonic microbial loop. The ISME Journal 4: 455-458.

8. Cunliffe M et al (2009) Comparison of bacterioneuston and bacterioplankton dynamics during a phytoplankton bloom in a fjord mesocosm. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 75 (22): 7173-7181. 

7. Cunliffe M et al (2009) Dissolved organic carbon and bacterial populations in the gelatinous surface microlayer of a Norwegian fjord mesocosm. FEMS Microbiology Letters 299 (2): 248-254.

6. Cunliffe M & Murrell JC (2009) The sea surface microlayer is a gelatinous biofilm. The ISME Journal 3: 1001–1003.

5. Cunliffe M et al (2009) Comparison and validation of sampling strategies for the molecular microbial ecological analysis of surface microlayers. Aquatic Microbial Ecology 57: 69-77.

4. Cunliffe M et al (2008) Phylogenetic and functional gene analysis of the bacterial and archaeal communities associated with the surface microlayer of an estuary. The ISME Journal 2: 776–789.  

3. Cunliffe M et al (2006) Effect of inoculum pre-treatment on survival, activity and catabolic gene expression of Sphingobium yanoikuyae B1 in an aged polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-contaminated soil. FEMS Microbial Ecology 58: 364-372.

2. Cunliffe M & Kertesz MA (2006) Autecological properties of soil sphingomonads involved in the degradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 72: 1083-1089.

1. Cunliffe M & Kertesz MA (2006) Effect of Sphingobium yanoikuyae B1 inoculation on bacterial community dynamics and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon degradation in aged and freshly PAH- contaminated soils. Environmental Pollution 144: 228-237.

Key publications are highlighted

Journals
Articles
Chrismas N, Allen R, Allen MJ, Bird K & Cunliffe M (2023) 'A 17-year time-series of fungal environmental DNA from a coastal marine ecosystem reveals long-term seasonal-scale and inter-annual diversity patterns' Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 290, (1992) , DOI
Timmis K, Berry D, Bonfante P, Coleman M, Cunliffe M, Danchin A, Galperin M, Huang W, Lopez P & Stewart F (2023) 'Juan <scp>Luis Ramos</scp> : An exceptional <scp>Editor</scp> of <scp>Environmental Microbiology</scp>' Environmental Microbiology , DOI
Cunliffe M (2022) 'Who are the marine fungi?' Environmental Microbiology , DOI Open access
Mock T, Boulton W, Balmonte J-P, Barry K, Bertilsson S, Bowman J, Buck M, Bratbak G, Chamberlain EJ & Cunliffe M (2022) 'Multiomics in the central Arctic Ocean for benchmarking biodiversity change' PLOS Biology 20, (10) e3001835-e3001835 , DOI
Abreu A, Bourgois E, Gristwood A, Troublé R, Acinas SG, Bork P, Boss E, Bowler C, Budinich M & Chaffron S (2022) 'Priorities for ocean microbiome research' Nature Microbiology 7, (7) 937-947 , DOI
Bonthond G, Barilo A, Allen RJ, Cunliffe M & Krueger-Hadfield SA (2022) 'Fungal endophytes vary by species, tissue type, and life cycle stage in intertidal macroalgae' Journal of Phycology: an international journal of algal research , DOI Open access
Laundon D, Chrismas N, Bird K, Thomas S, Mock T & Cunliffe M (2022) 'A cellular and molecular atlas reveals the basis of chytrid development' eLife 11, , DOI Open access
Thomas S, Lengger SK, Bird KE, Allen R & Cunliffe M (2022) 'Macromolecular composition and substrate range of three marine fungi across major cell types' FEMS Microbes 3, , DOI Open access
Chrismas NAM, Allen R, Hollingsworth AL, Taylor JD & Cunliffe M (2021) 'Complex photobiont diversity in the marine lichen Lichina pygmaea' The Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 101, (4) 667-674 , DOI Open access
Zäncker B, Cunliffe M & Engel A (2021) 'Eukaryotic community composition in the sea surface microlayer across an east–west transect in the Mediterranean Sea' Biogeosciences 18, (6) 2107-2118 , DOI Open access
Laundon D, Mock T, Wheeler G & Cunliffe M (2021) 'Healthy herds in the phytoplankton: the benefit of selective parasitism' The ISME Journal 15, (7) 2163-2166 , DOI Open access
Roberts C, Allen R, Bird KE & Cunliffe M (2020) 'Chytrid fungi shape bacterial communities on model particulate organic matter' Biology Letters 16, (9) , DOI Open access
Laundon D, Chrismas N, Wheeler G & Cunliffe M (2020) 'Chytrid rhizoid morphogenesis resembles hyphal development in multicellular fungi and is adaptive to resource availability' Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 287, (1928) 20200433-20200433 , DOI Open access
Chrismas N & Cunliffe M (2020) 'Depth-dependent mycoplankton glycoside hydrolase gene activity in the open ocean—evidence from the Tara Oceans eukaryote metatranscriptomes' The ISME Journal , DOI Open access
Zäncker B, Engel A & Cunliffe M (2019) 'Bacterial communities associated with individual transparent exopolymer particles (TEP)' Journal of Plankton Research 41, (4) 561-565 , DOI Open access
Amend A, Burgaud G, Cunliffe M, Edgcomb VP, Ettinger CL, Gutiérrez MH, Heitman J, Hom EFY, Ianiri G & Jones AC (2019) 'Fungi in the Marine Environment: Open Questions and Unsolved Problems' mBio 10, (2) , DOI Open access
Dale H, Solan M, Lam P & Cunliffe M (2019) 'Sediment microbial assemblage structure is modified by marine polychaete gut passage' FEMS Microbiology Ecology 95, (5) , DOI Open access
Grossart H-P, Van den Wyngaert S, Kagami M, Wurzbacher C, Cunliffe M & Rojas-Jimenez K (2019) 'Fungi in aquatic ecosystems' Nature Reviews Microbiology 17, (6) 339-354 , DOI Open access
Dale H, Taylor JD, Solan M, Lam P & Cunliffe M (2018) 'Polychaete mucopolysaccharide alters sediment microbial diversity and stimulates ammonia-oxidising functional groups' FEMS Microbiology Ecology 95, (2) , DOI Open access
Zäncker B, Cunliffe M & Engel A (2018) 'Bacterial Community Composition in the Sea Surface Microlayer Off the Peruvian Coast' Frontiers in Microbiology 9, , DOI Open access
Cronin-O’Reilly S, Taylor JD, Jermyn I, Allcock AL, Cunliffe M & Johnson MP (2018) 'Limited congruence exhibited across microbial, meiofaunal and macrofaunal benthic assemblages in a heterogeneous coastal environment' Scientific Reports 8, (1) , DOI Open access
Rahlff J, Ribas-Ribas M, Brown SM, Mustaffa NIH, Renz J, Peck MA, Bird K, Cunliffe M, Melkonian K & Zappa CJ (2018) 'Blue pigmentation of neustonic copepods benefits exploitation of a prey-rich niche at the air-sea boundary' Scientific Reports 8, (1) , DOI Open access
Taylor JD, Bird KE, Widdicome CE & Cunliffe M (2018) 'Active bacterioplankton community response to dissolved ‘free’ deoxyribonucleic acid (dDNA) in surface coastal marine waters' FEMS Microbiology Ecology 94, (10) , DOI Open access
Wurl O, Bird K, Cunliffe M, Landing WM, Miller U, Mustaffa NIH, Ribas-Ribas M, Witte C & Zappa CJ (2018) 'Warming and Inhibition of Salinization at the Ocean's Surface by Cyanobacteria' Geophysical Research Letters 45, (9) 4230-4237 , DOI Open access
Cunliffe M, Hollingsworth A, Bain C, Sharma V & Taylor JD (2017) 'Algal polysaccharide utilisation by saprotrophic planktonic marine fungi' Fungal Ecology 30, 135-138 , DOI Open access
Smale DA, Taylor JD, Coombs SH, Moore G & Cunliffe M (2017) 'Community responses to seawater warming are conserved across diverse biological groupings and taxonomic resolutions' Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 284, (1862) 20170534-20170534 , DOI Open access
Engel A, Bange HW, Cunliffe M, Burrows SM, Friedrichs G, Galgani L, Herrmann H, Hertkorn N, Johnson M & Liss PS (2017) 'The Ocean's Vital Skin: Toward an Integrated Understanding of the Sea Surface Microlayer' Frontiers in Marine Science 4, , DOI Open access
Taylor JD & Cunliffe M (2017) 'Coastal bacterioplankton community response to diatom-derived polysaccharide microgels' Environmental Microbiology Reports 9, (2) 151-157 , DOI Open access
Taylor JD & Cunliffe M (2016) 'Multi-year assessment of coastal planktonic fungi reveals environmental drivers of diversity and abundance' The ISME Journal 10, (9) 2118-2128 , DOI Open access
Cunliffe M (2015) 'Purine catabolic pathway revealed by transcriptomics in the model marine bacterium<i>Ruegeria pomeroyi</i>DSS-3' FEMS Microbiology Ecology 92, (1) fiv150-fiv150 , DOI
Taylor JD & Cunliffe M (2015) 'Polychaete burrows harbour distinct microbial communities in oil-contaminated coastal sediments' Environmental Microbiology Reports 7, (4) 606-613 , DOI
Taylor JD & Cunliffe M (2014) 'High-throughput sequencing reveals neustonic and planktonic microbial eukaryote diversity in coastal waters' Journal of Phycology 50, (5) 960-965 , DOI
Taylor JD, Ellis R, Milazzo M, Hall-Spencer JM & Cunliffe M (2014) 'Intertidal epilithic bacteria diversity changes along a naturally occurring carbon dioxide and pH gradient' FEMS Microbiol Ecol 89, (3) 670-678 Author Site , DOI
Kadar E, Cunliffe M, Fisher A, Stolpe B, Lead J & Shi Z (2014) 'Chemical interaction of atmospheric mineral dust-derived nanoparticles with natural seawater--EPS and sunlight-mediated changes' Sci Total Environ 468-469, 265-271 Author Site , DOI
Taylor JD, Cottingham SD, Billinge J & Cunliffe M (2013) 'Seasonal microbial community dynamics correlate with phytoplankton-derived polysaccharides in surface coastal waters' The ISME Journal 8, (1) 245-248 , DOI
Cunliffe M, Engel A, Frka S, Gašparovic B, Guitart C, Murrell JC, Salter M, Stolle C, Upstill-Goddard R & Wurl O (2013) 'Sea surface microlayers: A unified physicochemical and biological perspective of the air–ocean interface' Progress in Oceanography 109, 104-116 , DOI
Cunliffe M (2013) 'Physiological and Metabolic Effects of Carbon Monoxide Oxidation in the Model Marine Bacterioplankton Ruegeria pomeroyi DSS-3' Applied and Environmental Microbiology 79, (2) 738-740 , DOI
Lidbury I, Johnson V, Hall-Spencer JM, Munn CB & Cunliffe M (2012) 'Community-level response of coastal microbial biofilms to ocean acidification in a natural carbon dioxide vent ecosystem' Mar Pollut Bull 64, (5) 1063-1066 Author Site , DOI Open access
Boden R, Cunliffe M, Scanlan J, Moussard H, Kits KD, Klotz MG, Jetten MS, Vuilleumier S, Han J & Peters L (2011) 'Complete genome sequence of the aerobic marine methanotroph Methylomonas methanica MC09' Journal of Bacteriology , DOI
Cunliffe M, Upstill-Goddard RC & Murrell JC (2011) 'Microbiology of aquatic surface microlayers' FEMS Microbiology Reviews 35, (2) 233-246 , DOI
Lobelle D & Cunliffe M (2011) 'Early microbial biofilm formation on marine plastic debris' Marine Pollution Bulletin 62, (1) 197-200 , DOI
Cunliffe M (2010) 'Correlating carbon monoxide oxidation with cox genes in the abundant Marine Roseobacter Clade' The ISME Journal 5, (4) 685-691 , DOI
Cunliffe M & Murrell JC (2009) 'Eukarya 18S rRNA gene diversity in the sea surface microlayer: implications for the structure of the neustonic microbial loop' The ISME Journal 4, (3) 455-458 , DOI
Cunliffe M, Whiteley AS, Newbold L, Oliver A, Schäfer H & Murrell JC (2009) 'Comparison of Bacterioneuston and Bacterioplankton Dynamics during a Phytoplankton Bloom in a Fjord Mesocosm' Applied and Environmental Microbiology 75, (22) 7173-7181 , DOI
Cunliffe M, Salter M, Mann PJ, Whiteley AS, Upstill-Goddard RC & Murrell JC (2009) 'Dissolved organic carbon and bacterial populations in the gelatinous surface microlayer of a Norwegian fjord mesocosm' FEMS Microbiology Letters 299, (2) 248-254 , DOI
Cunliffe M, Harrison E, Salter M, Schäfer H, Upstill-Goddard RC & Murrell JC (2009) 'Comparison and validation of sampling strategies for the molecular microbial analysis of surface microlayers' Aquatic Microbial Ecology 57, 69-77 , DOI
Cunliffe M & Murrell JC (2009) 'The sea-surface microlayer is a gelatinous biofilm' The ISME Journal 3, (9) 1001-1003 , DOI
Cunliffe M, Schäfer H, Harrison E, Cleave S, Upstill-Goddard R & Murrell JC (2008) 'Phylogenetic and functional gene analysis of the bacterial and archaeal communities associated with the surface microlayer of an estuary' The ISME Journal 2, (7) 776-789 , DOI
Cunliffe M, Kawasaki A, Fellows E & Kertesz MA (2006) 'Effect of inoculum pretreatment on survival, activity and catabolic gene expression of Sphingobium yanoikuyae B1 in an aged polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-contaminated soil' FEMS Microbiology Ecology 58, (3) 364-372 , DOI
Cunliffe M & Kertesz MA (2006) 'Effect of Sphingobium yanoikuyae B1 inoculation on bacterial community dynamics and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon degradation in aged and freshly PAH-contaminated soils' Environmental Pollution 144, (1) 228-237 , DOI
Cunliffe M & Kertesz MA (2006) 'Autecological properties of soil sphingomonads involved in the degradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons' Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 72, (5) 1083-1089 , DOI
Reviews
Brodie J, williamson C, Smale DA, Kamenos NA, Mieszkowska N, Santos R, Cunliffe M, Steinke M, Yesson C & Anderson KM (2014) 'The future of the northeast Atlantic benthic flora in a high CO2 world' Ecology and Evolution 4, (13) 2787-2798 Publisher Site , DOI Open access