This opportunity is now closed.

Funded PhD Opportunity

Investigation of the modifying effects of selenium in the relationship between methylmercury and child development

Subjects: Biomedical Sciences and Biomedical Sciences


Summary

The Seychelles Child Development Study (SCDS) is a multi-cohort longitudinal observational study investigating the effects of prenatal methylmercury (MeHg) exposure on child development in a high-fish eating population.  We have shown that the nutritional benefits of consuming high amounts of fish during pregnancy outweigh any negative neurotoxic effects of MeHg1 and these findings have been used to inform global nutrition guidelines regarding fish consumption during pregnancy.  Fish is a source of the neurotoxicant MeHg but is also rich in nutrients such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), vitamin D, iodine and selenium which are essential for optimal neurodevelopment.  MeHg is a highly specific, irreversible inhibitor of selenium-dependent enzymes, however selenium is also believed to play a role in the detoxification of MeHg2,3.  This relationship between selenium and MeHg and the impact on neurodevelopment in human studies requires further investigation. The largest most recent cohort of the SCDS, Nutrition Cohort 2 (NC2), consists of 1535 mother-child pairs in which biological samples (including hair and blood), dietary and demographic data have been collected from the mothers during pregnancy.  Biological samples have been collected from the children at birth in addition to neurodevelopmental testing at 20 months and 7 years of age.

The aim of this project is to investigate the modifying effects of selenium in the relationship between methylmercury and child development in the SCDS NC2. This project will involve working with existing data from the SCDS NC2, carrying out additional laboratory analysis of maternal and cord samples from NC2 for selenium biomarkers and genetic factors relating to selenium metabolism.  In addition, data collected by the Seychelles Fishing Authority on nutrient and contaminant concentrations of Seychelles fish will be incorporated into the NC2 dietary database.

This PhD will:

1. Estimate the dietary selenium and mercury intakes of Seychellois pregnant women using nutrient and contaminant data collected by the Seychelles Fishing Authority in conjugation with dietary data collected as part of the SCDS.

2. Use historical data collected by the Seychelles Fishing Authority to investigate the impact of environmental changes on nutrient content of Seychelles fish and carry out statistical modelling to estimate the impact on dietary intakes.

3. Measure selenium biomarkers and SNPs in genes regulating selenium metabolism in maternal and cord samples from SCDS NC2.

4. Investigate the potential modifying effect of selenium on associations between methylmercury and child neurodevelopmental outcomes in SCDS NC2.

The PhD researcher appointed to this project will be given every opportunity to maximise on training by participating in relevant workshops, specialist skills sessions, relevant online courses, PhD researcher initiatives and personal development activities organised by the Doctoral College.  In addition, the researcher will work closely with all international partners of the Seychelles Child Development Study (University of Rochester, USA; Ministry of Health, Republic of Seychelles and Lund University, Sweden) and may have the opportunity to benefit from additional off-site training for specific laboratory techniques.  The PhD researcher will be expected and strongly encouraged to prepare and present their research findings when appropriate at national and international conferences.

References

1. Strain JJ et al., Prenatal exposure to methyl mercury from fish consumption and polyunsaturated fatty acids: associations with child development at 20 months of age in an observational study in the Republic of Seychelles. Am J Clin Nutr, 101(3), 530-537, 2015.

2. Kuras et al., Revision of reciprocal action of mercury and selenium.  Int J Occup Med Environ Health, 31(5), 575-592, 2018.

3. Ralston NVC & Raymond LJ. Dietary selenium’s protective effects against methylmercury toxicity.  Toxicology, 278(1), 112-123, 2010.


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.
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

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.

  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.
  • Relevant professional qualification and/or a Degree in a Health or Health related area

Funding

    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 £ 15,009 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


Other information


The Doctoral College at Ulster University


Reviews

Profile picture of Kieran O'Donnell

My experience has been great and the people that I have worked with have been amazing

Kieran O'Donnell - 3D printing of biological cells for tissue engineering applications

Watch Video  

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

Watch Video  

Profile picture of William Crowe

Throughout my PhD I’ve been provided with continuous support and guidance by my supervisors and the staff at the University.I’ve also received many opportunities to further enhance my professional development in the form of teaching experience and presenting my work at conferences which will aid in my pursuit of a career in academia or industry.

William Crowe


Key dates

Submission deadline
Friday 7 February 2020

Interview Date
9 to 20 March 2020


Applying

Apply Online  


Campus

Coleraine campus

Coleraine campus
The feeling of community at our Coleraine campus makes for a warm and welcoming student experience.


Contact supervisor

Dr Maria Mulhern


Other supervisors

  • Dr Alison Yeates
  • Dr Emeir McSorley
  • Professor JJ Strain - Principle Investigator of the Seychelles Child Development Study at Ulster University Dr Edwin van Wijngaarden - Principle Investigator of the Seychelles Child Development Study at University of Rochester

Related Funded Opportunities

Diabetes

Subject: Biomedical Sciences

 View details

The regulation of rhamnolipid biosynthesis in Burkholderia thailandensis.

Closing date:
Tuesday 1 September 2020
Subject: Biomedical Sciences

 View details

Genomic Medicine

Subject: Biomedical Sciences

 View details

Stratified Medicine

Subject: Biomedical Sciences

 View details

Novel amphibian skin peptide-analogues for the treatment of type-2 diabetes

Closing date:
Friday 18 September 2020
Subject: Biomedical Sciences

 View details

The production of rhamnolipid biosurfactant by Pseudomonas aeruginosa growing in biofilms.

Closing date:
Tuesday 1 September 2020
Subject: Biomedical Sciences

 View details

Optometry and Vision Science

Subject: Biomedical Sciences

 View details

MRes in Biomedical Sciences

Subject: Biomedical Sciences

 View details