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Funded PhD Opportunity

Ecology and evolution of antibiotic resistance in aquatic environments

Subject: Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology


Summary

Background:

The emergence of superbugs as bacteria with resistance against multiple or all available antibiotics has the potential to cause a global health crisis. While their frequency of occurrence has been well documented in medical care, natural environments have only just started to come under scrutiny as likely sources of multiple resistance against antibiotics (Berendonk et al., 2015). In particular, aquatic systems receive transfers from multiple sources exposed to waste from treatments with antibiotics, which also may contain live resistant bacteria or their resistance genes. The ecosystem response remains largely unknown. Experimental evidence suggests that the response is complex and variable depending on the type of antibiotics, bacteria, aquatic organisms and abiotic factors, which are interacting.

This project will investigate the role of ecological processes in accumulation, persistence and proliferation of antibiotic resistance in aquatic environments with a particular focus on the facilitation of resistance transfer. With complementary investigations at bench and field scale it will expand on current UU research, which has provided a proof of principle for filter feeding as one type of biotic interaction with such a facilitating effect (e.g. Olanrewaju et al., 2019). It will also explore related processes of relevance to the resistome of aquatic sediments.

Research objectives:

1) Review of the effects of aquatic bacterivores on aquatic systems and on population dynamics of bacteria pheno- and genotypes

2) Development of model systems for the experimental investigation of ecological interactions with effects on antibiotic resistance

3) Investigation of the facilitation of microbial resistance transfer by single species of aquatic invertebrates and protozoa

4) Investigation of the persistence of multi resistant bacteria in facilitating organisms and of the potential transfer to their predators

5) Exploration of the environmental constraints for biotic facilitation of resistance transfer

6) Evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria of aquatic environments under selected environmental constraints

7) Field studies of the resistome in sediments subject to transfers from aquatic organisms with proven potential (Objectives 1, 3) for facilitation of antibiotic resistance transfer

Methodology:

The investigation will employ methods of hydrobiology (microcosm studies of filtration rates, microscopy), classical microbiology (e.g. resistance profiles) and molecular biology (e.g. q-PCR and metagenomics).

Impact: Knowledge of ecological processes contributing to accumulation, persistence and proliferation of antibiotic resistance in aquatic systems is highly relevant for environmental regulators and water managers. Project results will inform strategies for the monitoring of antibiotic resistance in aquatic environments, in particular where such efforts focus on the sampling of sediments. Furthermore, the investigation of aquatic organisms, which concentrate waterborne bacteria, and food chain effects will yield relevant information for food safety.

References:

Berendonk TU, Manaia CM, Merlin C, Fatta-Kassinos D, Cytryn E and Walsh F., et al. (2015). Tackling antibiotic resistance: the environmental framework. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2015;13:310–317.

Olanrewaju TO, McCarron M, Dooley JSG and Arnscheidt J (2019). Transfer of antibiotic resistance genes between Enterococcus faecalis strains in filter feeding zooplankton Daphnia magna and Daphnia pulex. Sci Total Environ. 659: 1168–1175


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
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • 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
  • A demonstrable interest in or experience of using open science methods

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 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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Profile picture of Carin Cornwall

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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Key dates

Submission deadline
Friday 7 February 2020

Interview Date
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 Joerg Arnscheidt


Other supervisors

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