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PhD projects for research students

Are retinoid-like chemicals prevalent in the environment and do they pose an ecotoxicological risk?

Retinoids have a significant role in many vital biological processes such as regulation of skin function and neuronal development.  There are over 2,500 retinoid related compounds used in cosmetic products and as anti-acne therapeutic agents. There is increasing concern about the presence of retinoids and synthetic chemicals with retinoid-like properties entering the environment. Retinoid activity has been detected in wastewater effluent, pulp mill effluents, and from unknown/diffuse sources, suggesting that a variety of chemicals exist in nature (natural and/or man-made) that mimic the activity of natural endogenous retinoids. There is little information on what these chemicals might be, or where they come from, and identifying these chemicals is now on the OECD agenda.

The complete identity of retinoid like chemicals or the risks they pose to natural systems is unknown. Identification of the most active components and an assessment of their potential impact on the environment can be used to determine treatment strategies and to inform policy makers.  This project will develop bioassay directed methods to determine the identity of retinoid chemicals and investigate if retinoid-like chemicals are prevalent in the environment and if they pose an ecotoxicological risk.   

Elucidating the molecular mechanisms of parasite-host interactions between snails and schistosomes

The parasitic disease Schistosomiasis affects 243 million people worldwide. Having hatched from human urine or faeces contaminating water-bodies, the parasite must seek and infect a compatible water snail before developing further to infect humans. Recent research conducted at Brunel has identified an attractant released by snails that is used by the parasite to find and infect the snail intermediate host.

Now that we have isolated the attractant released by snails into the water that schistosomes use to find and infect snails, we
propose to investigate the genes and synthetic pathways relevant to snail schistosome attraction using genomic approaches.  It is hoped that this fundamental information will help in the development of novel intervention strategies for disease transmission.