Putting Molecular Ecology to Work for Targeted Control of Marine Biofouling


Putting Molecular Ecology to Work for Targeted Control of Marine Biofouling


Project Description


Dr Nick Aldred (School of Life Sciences, University of Essex) contact me

Professor Alex Dumbrell (School of Life Sciences, University of Essex)

Dr Ralitsa Mihaylova (Safinah Group)

Project Background

The success of global trade relies on commercial shipping.  The maritime industry is therefore essential for modern life, but has substantial environmental impacts through marine pollution, emission of greenhouse gases and the transportation of potentially problematic non-indigenous species (NIS).  These issues are exacerbated by marine biofouling – the accumulation and growth of organisms on artificial structures at sea, from energy generation devices to aquaculture facilities, ships and rigs.  Biofouling causes substantial efficiency losses and therefore economic impact.  Most fouling-control measures still rely on the use of biocidal marine paints that release large quantities of heavy metals and organic biocides into the environment, but more targeted approaches are limited by a lack of understanding about when and where fouling will most likely occur.  A specific challenge is the identification of NIS associated with ships as they move around the world’s oceans. This project will aim to better understand the dynamics of colonisation and growth that could be used to predict biofouling more accurately, and thus direct future fouling-control strategies that rely less on toxic coatings.


The approach will incorporate a range of cutting-edge, next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based techniques to better understand the colonisation process on artificial surfaces and link what is present in the plankton to what occurs in the fouling community under a range of fouling-control conditions. A diverse skillset will be developed through analysis of shipping data, environmental sampling and molecular techniques such as Droplet Digital PCR, NGS sample preparation and analysis.


Specific bioinformatics and molecular biology training will be provided, with additional training opportunities available to suit the needs of the candidate. The successful candidate will work closely with our industrial collaborator, Safinah Group, to develop the research towards an applied objective.  They will also gain experience of the industrial environment through placements with the company.

Person Specification

Candidates should be numerate, with a strong background in statistics or modelling and enthusiasm to develop molecular biology expertise. They should have a degree in a quantitative biological discipline, with relevant additional experience viewed favourably.


  • 1. Aldred, N., Nelson, A. (2019) Microbiome acquisition during larval settlement of the barnacle Semibalanus balanoides. Biol. Lett. 15, 20180763.
  • 2. Aldred, N., Alsaab, A., Clare, A.S. (2018) Quantitative analysis of the complete larval settlement process confirms Crisp’s model of surface selectivity by barnacles. Proc. R. Soc. B 285, 20171957
  • 3. Derocles, S.A.P., Bohan, D.A., Dumbrell, A.J. et al. (2018) Biomonitoring for the 21st century: integrating next generation sequencing into ecological network analysis. Adv. Ecol. Res. 58, 1-62.
  • 4. Georgiades, E., Kluza, D., Bates, T. et al. (2020) Regulating vessel biofouling to support New Zealand’s marine biosecurity system – a blue print for evidence-based decision making. Front. Marine Sci. 7, 390.
  • 5. Zaiko, A., Pochon, X., Garcia-Vazquez, E. et al. (2018) Advantages and limitations of environmental DNA/RNA tools for marine biosecurity: management and surveillance of non-indigenous species. Front. Marine Sci. 5, 322.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside significant relevant non-academic experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship click on the “Apply now” link below.

Get in Touch

aries.dtp@uea.ac.uk /