A photo of a woman sitting in front of a city backdrop.

Sophie Powell

University of Birmingham


Understanding the impact of climate change and elevated CO2 on tree microbial diversity


  • Mojgan Rabiey
  • James MacDonald
  • Rob Jackson 

PhD Summary

UK woodland provides many benefits including supporting rich biodiversity, enhancing the economy, and playing a key role in culture and well-being. However, trees susceptibility to disease is hypothesised to increase as climate change progresses. Plant microbiomes typically function to improve health and prevent establishment of pathogens, but under elevated CO2 concentrations (e[CO2]) the structure, diversity and thereby function of tree microbiomes is changing. This project will aim to understand how e[CO2] impacts tree microbial diversity, by analysing leaf metabolites, identifying changes in microbial diversity, and identifying how the microbial consortia responds to pathogens.  

Previous activity

Prior to my PhD I studied an Integrated Master’s degree (MBio) at the University of Warwick, in Biological Sciences (2019-2023). My undergraduate project isolated microbes from freshwater microplastics and tested their ability to degrade low-density polyethylene (used in single use plastic). I found I really enjoyed studying microbiomes so for my master’s project I investigated whether plant circadian rhythms could induce rhythmicity in microbiome activity. I spent most of the project accidentally killing my Arabidopsis plants but continued to enjoy microbiology enough to apply for a PhD.  

Why did you choose doctoral research?

I’ve always enjoyed academia, so after completing my master’s degree this seemed like the next natural step. I was unsure if it was the right decision, but this PhD project was advertised which perfectly encapsulated all my scientific interests. It was the perfect opportunity to continue exploring science research whilst developing my skills and experience, so I had to take it.  

Why did you choose CENTA?

The CENTA doctoral program integrated training throughout the 3.5-year programme rather than requiring blocks of training and examination. They also promote a healthy work-life balance and aim to move away from toxic academia. This appealed to me because it fostered a more relaxed approach to learning where I could gradually develop my research skills.  

Future plans

The CENTA DTP offers lots of different training opportunities including placements which I’m hoping will help me explore a whole range of different career options. I currently don’t have any future plans.