Velislava Ilieva

The Open University


The influence of sulfur cycling on community diversity in hypersaline environments


  • Dr Michael Macey
  • Prof Karen Olsson-Francis
  • Dr Victoria Pearson
  • Dr Daniel Read

PhD Summary

My project investigates extremophilic microorganisms that use sulfur as an energy source and inhabit hypersaline environments (e.g., lakes, salt plains). I will use culture-dependent and culture-independent methods to study the bacterial communities at my field sites (Mars-analogue sites) and determine if biological sulfur cycling is important for the structure, composition and diversity of the bacterial communities.

Previous activity

I did a degree in molecular biology at the University of Manchester, while working part-time with the R&D team of Yourgene Health, a molecular diagnostics company.

Why did you choose doctoral research?

I thoroughly enjoyed my degree at the University of Manchester and wanted to pursue an academic career. Doctoral research would be a natural progression in this direction. Moreover, I liked the challenge of working independently on a project and becoming an expert in a given scientific area – both of these are essential components of doctoral research.

Why did you choose CENTA?

I pursued a CENTA studentship because I was interested in the offered training opportunities. Having worked in a scientific company and having undertaken internships in academia, I was aware of the wide variety of skills required for a successful career in science, both in an industrial and academic settings. I felt that the CENTA studentship will give me the right skills to prepare me for the post-PhD life.

Future plans

I love my project because it allows me to use molecular biology and microbiology approaches to gain insights into the limits of life and think about the possibility of life beyond Earth. I am very excited to be part of the multidisciplinary AstrobiologyOU group at the Open University because I am exposed to a variety of topics within astrobiology such as geology, geochemistry, modelling, ethics and law. After my PhD, I would like to remain within astrobiology and pursue an academic career.