Dr Philippe Laissue (University of Essex)
Prof Richard Thompson (University of Plymouth)
Dr Andrew Mayes (UEA)
Dr Lucinda Gilfoyle (Anglian Water)
Microplastics can enter ecosystems, where they affect microorganisms and their processes. Microbial-driven nitrogen (N) cycling is fundamental in the environment, yet little is known how microplastics affect these key microorganisms. Microplastics also occur in waste biosludges, with potential impacts to N-removal. Furthermore, the majority of biosludges are used as fertilisers, where there is risk to agricultural soils. Currently, there is virtually nothing known about the fate, transformation and effects of microplastics on microbial communities in the environment, especially where N-cycling is important.
1. Characterise the effect of microplastics on microorganisms, specifically those involved in N-cycling.
2. Characterise the fate and biotransformation of microplastics in the environment.
The student will conduct field sampling (sediments, biosludges, agricultural soils) and apply molecular, chemical and analytical techniques to characterise the effect of microplastics on microbial communities and N-cycling. Manipulation experiments will also be performed to encompass seasonal/ environmental variations (e.g. temperatures, nutrient inputs). Polymer transformation will be measured by changes in size/physical appearance, and spectroscopic signatures (UEA). At Essex, microbial communities will be characterised using qPCR, amplicon sequencing targeting phylogenetic (bacteria/archaeal 16S rRNA) and N-cycle genes (e.g. amoA, nitrifiers; nirS, denitrifiers) and related to potential rates (e.g. nitrification, denitrification). Fluorescence microscopy and FISH will also be performed to characterise biofilm formation and determine the spatial distribution of microorganisms on microplastics.
The candidate will join the Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Group at Essex with further training at UEA, Plymouth and Anglian Water. Training will include fieldwork, qPCR, high throughput sequencing, bioinformatics to characterise microbial communities. Bioimaging (fluorescence/electron microscopy) to measure biofilm formation and analytical chemistry (synthesis, FT-IR spectroscopy) to quantify polymer transformation. The student will also spend three months at Anglian Water and gain business experience and skills in resource based management. The student will have access to training courses across institutes.
A highly motivated student with a background in Microbiology, Biochemistry, Environmental Sciences or related discipline, who is keen to learn new skills and engage with industry. The candidate will have good communication skills and be self-motivated. For scientific enquiries contact Dr Whitby: firstname.lastname@example.org.