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Funded PhD Opportunity

Water treatment processes and antibiotic resistance

Subject: Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology


Summary

Background:

Large medical datasets provide the evidence that the rise in antibiotic resistance has become a global problem. As the investigation of potential causes is now extending beyond hospital care, aquatic systems are receiving increased attention as potential sites for the emergence and proliferation of new superbugs, i.e. microbes which have acquired multiple resistance against a diverse set of chemical compounds employed for their control. Particularly water treatment systems have been suggested as hotspots for horizontal resistance transfer and in this respect strong evidence exists not only for wastewater treatment (Pärnänen et al., 2019; Manaia et al., 2018) but also for drinking water treatment facilities (Sanganyado and Gwenzi, 2019). However, many open questions remain regarding a potentially facilitating role of individual water treatment processes.

Such detailed knowledge is urgently required for improvements to treatment processes, which could minimise the emergence of microbial organisms with multiple resistance, or for the implementation of appropriate mitigation measures aimed at preventing a proliferation of such microbial organisms or their genes beyond treatment plants.

This project aims to identify and investigate individual water treatment processes, which are likely to contribute to accumulation, enhanced persistence and proliferation of antibiotic resistance.

Research objectives:

1) Review of antibiotic resistance in water treatment with focus on effects of individual treatment processes

2) Selection of treatment processes for further investigation and development of suitable model systems

3) Characterisation of physical and chemical properties of the model systems

4) Investigation of horizontal resistance transfer in single species and multi species systems

5) Comparison of the impact of disturbance on the evolution of different resistance traits

6) Comparative characterisation of the resistome for a selected process (Objective 2) in different water treatment facilties

Methodology:

The investigation will employ methods of analytical chemistry (spectroscopy and liquid chromatography for quantification of antibiotics), physics or microscopy (characterisation of material properties), classical microbiology (e.g. resistance profiles) and molecular biology (e.g. q-PCR and metagenomics). The development of model systems can build on current research on retention of antibiotics (e.g. Akinsanmi et al., 2019).

Impact:

This interdisciplinary project will provide detailed knowledge of the contribution by individual processes to accumulation, persistence and proliferation of antibiotic resistance in water treatment plants, which is of high relevance for pharmaceutical manufacturers with responsibilities for on-site wastewater treatment, water providers and environmental regulators.

Project results will inform strategies to minimise facilitation of resistance transfer and discharge of multiresistant microbes or their genes.

It is expected that the successful applicant will be able to provide evidence of methodological and/or applied experience.

References:

Akinsanmi O et al. 2019. Tackling antimicrobial resistance: Adsorption of meropenem and ciprofloxacin on lignocellulosic substrate from sawdust. Poster session presented at European Waste Water Management Conference, Birmingham, United Kingdom.

Manaia CM et al. 2018. Antibiotic resistance in wastewater treatment plants: tackling the black box. Environ Int 115, 312–324. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2018.03.044.

Pärnänen KMM et al. 2019. Antibiotic resistance in European wastewater treatment plants mirrors the pattern of clinical antibiotic resistance prevalence. Sci Adv 5:eaau9124. https://doi .org/10.1126/sciadv.aau9124.

Sanganyado E, Gwenzi W (2019). Antibiotic resistance in drinking water systems: Occurrence, removal, and human health risks. Sci Tot Env, 669: 785–797


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

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


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