Dr Corinne Whitby, School of Life Sciences, University of Essex
Dr Philippe Laissue, School of Life Sciences, University of Essex
Prof Richard Thompson, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth
Dr Andrew Mayes, School of Chemistry, University of East Anglia
Microplastics enter ecosystems, where they affect microorganisms and their processes. Microbial-driven ammonia-oxidation is fundamental to the environmental cycling of nitrogen (N) and ammonia-oxidisers are highly sensitive to environmental perturbations. Biosludges, are often applied to agricultural soils as fertilisers, but biosludges can accumulate microplastics during waste treatment processes, with potential effects on ammonia-oxidiser communities and activity. Currently, little is known about how microplastics affect ammonia-oxidation especially in environments where biosludges are applied or are inputted (e.g. agricultural land, run-off into freshwaters).
- Characterise the effect of microplastics on ammonia-oxidiser communities and nitrification processes.
- Characterise the fate and biotransformation of microplastics in the environment.
The student will conduct a combination of field sampling (river sediments, biosludges, agricultural soils) and mesocosm experiments encompassing various environmental perturbations (i.e. nutrient and microplastic inputs). Changes in ammonia-oxidiser abundance and diversity will be characterised using qPCR and sequencing of phylogenetic and functional genes and related to ammonia-oxidation rates. Fluorescence microscopy/ FISH will determine the spatial distribution of microorganisms in relation to microplastic particles (Essex). Size/physical appearance, spectroscopic signatures and polymer transformation will also be measured.
The candidate will join the Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Group (Essex) with further training at UEA, Plymouth and Anglian Water. The student will learn a suite of molecular, chemical and imaging techniques. Training will include fieldwork, qPCR, high throughput sequencing, bioinformatics and bioimaging (fluorescence microscopy) to characterise microbial communities in relation to microplastics. The student will be trained in FT-IR spectroscopy (UEA) for microplastic particle characterisation and polymer chemistry, spend time in the microplastic facility (Plymouth) and three months at Anglian Water to gain business experience and skills in resource management. The student will also develop other skills in experimental design, data analysis and interpretation, scientific writing, communication to specialist and non-specialist audiences and have access to training courses across institutes.
A highly motivated individual with a background in Microbiology, Biochemistry, ENV 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.