Biogeography of microbial bioaerosols in a changing climate


Biogeography of microbial bioaerosols in a changing climate


Project Description

Project Background

This multidisciplinary project will incorporate ecology, public health, and data science to investigate how changes in the climate will drive the ecology of, and our exposure to, the atmospheric microbiome.

The air we breathe is teeming with microorganisms and other biogenic particulates (collectively referred to as bioaerosols). Once inhaled, bioaerosols are associated with a wide range of negative health effects. For example, allergies and infectious diseases such as aspergillosis. Bioaerosols also play important roles in the Earth system by influencing atmospheric chemistry, weather, and microbial dispersal.

Climate change is driving range shifts in many taxa, and microorganisms are no exception. For bioaerosols this is further confounded as their emission and size profiles vary with climate. Due to the profound public health and ecological impacts there is an urgent need to understand how climate will alter bioaerosol biogeography.

Research methodology

You will combine advanced computational methods, field work, and molecular biology to investigate how climate change will drive the biogeography of bioaerosols.

Combining sampling across Europe with existing data, you will use DNA sequencing/metabarcoding to predict airborne microbiome range shifts, and use experimental work and local field sampling (East England) to investigate how climate drives emission profiles of bioaerosols.


You will gain highly sought skills in computer science, bioinformatics, data analysis/statistical modelling, GIS, R, as well as laboratory (molecular biology) and field work skills (including air sampling).

Benefiting from a broad supervisory team comprising academics (The University of Essex) and government scientists at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), you will become an expert in one of the greatest challenges facing the modern world – the link between air pollution and public health in a changing climate – opening the doors to careers across research, academia, government and policy, ecology, public health, data science.

Person specification

Applicants should have obtained a degree in a relevant biological sciences discipline (environmental science, ecology, bioinformatics) but candidates with skills in computing, who want to gain lab and fieldwork skills are encouraged to apply.

Please email to apply.


  • 1) Ferguson, R.M., Neath, C.E., Nasir, Z.A., Garcia-Alcega, S., Tyrrel, S., Coulon, F., Dumbrell, A.J., Colbeck, I. and Whitby, C., 2021. Size fractionation of bioaerosol emissions from green-waste composting. Environment International, 147, p.106327.
  • 2) Ferguson, R.M., Garcia‐Alcega, S., Coulon, F., Dumbrell, A.J., Whitby, C. and Colbeck, I., 2019. Bioaerosol biomonitoring: Sampling optimization for molecular microbial ecology. Molecular ecology resources, 19(3), pp.672-690.
  • 3) Archer, S.D. and Pointing, S.B., 2020. Anthropogenic impact on the atmospheric microbiome. Nature microbiology, 5(2), pp.229-231.
  • 4) Reche, I., D’Orta, G., Mladenov, N., Winget, D.M. and Suttle, C.A., 2018. Deposition rates of viruses and bacteria above the atmospheric boundary layer. The ISME journal, 12(4), pp.1154-1162.
  • 5) Dumbrell, A.J., Ferguson, R.M. and Clark, D.R., 2016. Microbial community analysis by single-amplicon high-throughput next generation sequencing: data analysis–from raw output to ecology. In Hydrocarbon and lipid microbiology protocols (pp. 155-206). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2022.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are 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 non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past 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.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

Apply now