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Research Fellows Directory

Laura Lehtovirta-Morley

Dr Laura Lehtovirta-Morley

Research Fellow


University of East Anglia

Research summary

My research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms which enable microorganisms to fit into their ecological niches, using ammonia oxidisers as a model. Ammonia oxidation is a critically important step in the global biogeochemical cycling of nitrogen, and simultaneously essential for life on the Earth and a major global threat through its role in the climate change.

Annually 120 Tg nitrogen fertiliser is applied globally and the amount is projected to increase to accommodate for the world’s growing population. Approximately 2% of all energy globally is dedicated solely for the production of ammonia-based fertiliser, but 70% of the applied fertiliser is lost through the activity of prokaryotic ammonia oxidisers and emitted into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Although it is well established that the diversity, abundance and activity of ammonia oxidising microbial communities are shaped by environmental factors in soil, including pH and nitrogen content, the mechanistic basis underpinning this selection is not understood. This makes it more challenging to predict how nitrogen cycling in soil ecosystems responds to changes in land use management, and what the ramifications of such changes are.

My work addresses the interplay between cell physiology and ecology and centres on generating novel mechanistic understanding on the drivers and extent of nitrogen loss in soils. This information will help to predict and manage nitrogen losses and improve soil nitrogen use efficiency. This is of particular importance for ensuring sustainable intensification of crop production, which is a major challenge especially in emerging economies, and mitigating the ecological and financial consequences of climate change.

Grants awarded

Redefining the terrestrial nitrogen cycle from cells to soil

Scheme: Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship

Dates: Oct 2016 - Oct 2021

Value: £469,208.46

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