Summary

The reservoir function of aquatic sediments for environmental bacteria is now being utilised for pollution monitoring (Bragina, et al. 2017). Sediment sampling is also a potential strategy for monitoring antibiotic resistance in aquatic systems. Accumulation of antibiotic resistant bacteria and resistance genes has been substantiated in the vicinity of wastewater discharge sites (e.g. Czezalski et al, 2014) and there is evidence for impacts of antibiotics in therapeutic concentrations on ecosystem processes (Roose-Amsaleg & Laverman, 2016).

However, there are many unexplained questions regarding the role of aquatic sediments in persistence and proliferation of antibiotic resistance at subinhibitory concentrations typically encountered in natural settings. Even the conventional assumption that sediments are hotspots of antibiotic resistance and for horizontal resistance transfer cannot be universally applied (Hess et al 2018).

These knowledge gaps severely constrain the regulatory environment. Often government agencies still rely on published acute toxicity levels as their only reference for setting environmental limits for antibiotic substances. An advance in regulatory practice towards a more comprehensive reflection of the environmental impact of antibiotics requires the investigation of effects by particulate matter on antibiotic resistance and resistance transfer in aquatic systems.

Therefore this study aims to characterize model systems for benchscale investigations of bacterial antibiotic resistance in aquatic sediments. These systems will be applied to investigate the persistence and proliferation of antibiotic resistance in different regimes of nutrient provision, physical, chemical and biological disturbance and with different sediment characteristics.

Objectives:

1) Investigation of attachment and growth of target bacteria depending on characteristics of model sediments

2) Comparison of strain specific growth rates depending on disturbance amplitude and frequency

3) Monitoring of resistance gene frequency in bacterial communities depending on disturbance regime and ‘founder effects’

4) Assessment of antibiotic resistance transfer efficiency depending on sediment charcteristics and disturbance regimes

The study will involve the design of test systems, characterisation of sediments, application of phenotypic and genetic characterisation of bacteria and the cultivation of invertebrate test organisms.

Bragina, L, Sherlock, O, van Rossum, AJ and Jennings, E (2017) Cattle Exclusion using Fencing Reduces Escherichia coli (E. coli) Level in Stream Sediment Reservoirs in Northeast Ireland. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 239, 349-358

Czekalski, N, Gascon Diez, E & Burgmann, H (2014) Wastewater as a point source of antibioticresistance genes in the sediment of a freshwater lake. ISME J. 8, 1381–1390

Heß S, Berendonk TU, Kneis D (2018) Antibiotic resistant bacteria and resistance genes in the bottom sediment of a small stream and the potential impact of remobilization FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 94(9). doi: 10.1093/femsec/fiy128.

Roose-Amsaleg C, Laverman AM (2016) Do antibiotics have environmental side-effects? Impact of synthetic antibiotics on biogeochemical processes Environ. Sci. Pollut. Res., 23 (2016), pp. 4000-4012


Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Research project completion within taught Masters degree or MRES
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Experience of presentation of research findings

    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Vice Chancellors Research Studentship (VCRS)

    Full award (full-time PhD fees + DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £15,000 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Bursary (VCRB)

    Part award (full-time PhD fees + 50% DfE level of maintenance grant + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees and provide the recipient with £7,500 maintenance grant per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fees Bursary (VCRFB)

    Fees only award (PhD fees + RTSG for 3 years).

    This scholarship will cover full-time PhD tuition fees for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,285 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to: www.ulster.ac.uk/doctoralcollege/postgraduate-research/fees-and-funding/financing-your-studies



The Doctoral College at Ulster University


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Profile picture of Michelle Clements Clements

Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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I would highly recommend Ulster University as you get so much support.  Coleraine is a beautiful town and the people are so friendly. It was a really positive experience.

Carin Cornwall - PhD Environmental Sciences

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Profile picture of Rory McNeary

I am a senior archaeologist and work for government in Northern Ireland. My PhD looked at the archaeological applications of high resolution airborne laser scanning or LiDAR at the Knockdhu Area of Significant Archaeological Interest (ASAI) in County Antrim. The research highlighted the importance of LiDAR analysis for the characterization and interpretation of historical landscapes, with an obvious application in supporting archaeological survey and settlement pattern research. It also reinforced the practical application of LiDAR data for cultural heritage management initiatives, such as, historic environment record augmentation, as well as, revealing patterns of change and threats to the archaeological resource at a landscape level.I am very grateful to the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) who part-funded this research through their HR Centre for Applied Learning’s ‘Assistance to Study’ scheme. I would also like to thank my academic supervisors who were

Rory McNeary - PhD in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology