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Professor Susan Jobling

Professor Susan Jobling
Institute Director - Environment, Health & Societies

Research area(s)

Research Activities:

My research involves the development of collaborative inter- disciplinary approaches involving a wide range of specialisms to work towards an understanding of how contaminants influence wildlife and human health, from the individual to the population. Of great concern to me and an increasing number of other scientists is a group of contaminants known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals, endocrine disruptors or EDCs. EDCs are synthetic chemicals that interact with the human body's glands, hormones and hormone receptors, known collectively as the endocrine system. Health effects of EDC exposure can range from cancer to immune, endocrine, neurological and reproductive system impacts. I investigate effects right from the molecular level, through to the individual, right through to the population.

My research can be divided into two main areas:

1. Environmental Health Investigation.

 This is looking at the real world and the health problems and their possible connection with the contamination of the world by chemical contaminants. These are daunting scientific challenges and tracing down the causes of health problems can be very hard. My introduction to research started when I was asked to find the contraceptive pill hormone in water and its possible link with feminisation of fish populations in UK rivers. I have spent almost my entire career since that time trying to understand exactly which mixtures of chemicals cause feminisation in fish and how they do it. Lately this has involved both laboratory studies, field data collection on both exposure and effects and statistical modelling of these data. I now want to develop and apply methods to assist in identifying health risks from the low-level environmental exposures of today - methods which are sensitive enough to tease out the often subtle health effects of complex mixtures of micropollutants.

The new environment-health paradigm suggests that in utero neonatal exposures to mixtures of environmental toxicants at low doses alter susceptibility to disease later in life as a result of their ability to affect the programming of tissue function that occurs during development. My work here often involves a cross fertilization of ideas between toxicology and basic science as well as information science and mathematics.

2. The development of new models and test systems with which to test and predict the safety of chemicals and detect and monitor their presence in the environment.

 Society needs tools with which to protect us from any potential hazards posed by mixtures of contaminants; safety methods with which to test the chemicals we use, the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. Here, I have two interests:

  1. Exploration of new more ethically acceptable model test organisms with which to screen chemical safety: Current testing of chemicals (and medicines) is based largely on rodent models and public concern over vertebrate animal use in testing chemicals is increasing. The search for replacements to animals is a major long-term goal for medical research and now also for environmental safety testing. Two currently funded projects are exploring the use of snails as replacements for rodents in some reproductive toxicity screens. Our work here involves both fundamental research on the structure and function of the reproductive system in these new models and more applied reproductive toxicology research.
  2. Development of new intelligent biosensors with which detect and monitor the presence of contaminants and predict their effects on the health of humans and wildlife. This involves collaboration with materials scientists, biotechnologists and statistical modellers.

Grants Awarded

 Since 2002, I have been awarded several grants, totalling £1,605,294.00 in research funding, and an additional £434,803.52 in research consultancy.

  1. 2001-2004: Effects of treated sewage effluents on fish (Co-investigator with Professor Tyler, Exeter University). Value: 132,000. Source: UKWIR and The Environment Agency.
  2. 2001-2004: Genotoxic Effects of Putative Endocrine Disrupters in (co-investigato Co-investigator with Tamara Galloway, University of Plymouth and Mike Depledge of Environment Agency). Source Leverhulme Trust. Value: 98,460
  3. European Commission: £242,031 from 11/10/2002-31/03/2006 for a study entitled Comparative Responses of Vertebrates and Invertebrates to Androgenic and anti-androgenic chemicals (COMPRENDO). Co-investigator and work package leader.
  4. Natural Environment Research Council (NERC): £142,232 from 1/10/02-31/03/06 for a study entitled The Effects of Sewage Pollution on Freshwater Molluscs. (Principal and Sole Investigator)
  5. Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs: £162,941 from 01/05/04-30/04/07 for a study entitled "Investigations into Endocrine Disruption in UK Freshwater Molluscs". (Principal Investigator). An additional £30,000 was obtained from the Environment Agency and then a further £48,000 for an extension till 2009.
  6. Biology and Biotechnology Research Council (BBSRC): £181,011 from 2004-2007 for a study entitled "Characterisation and Functional Role of Novel Oestrogen Receptors in the prosobranch Mollusc Marisa cornuarietis. (Principal Investigator). An additional £48,000 was obtained from the Environment Agency.
  7. Leverhulme Trust: £190,430 from 01/06/2009-30/05/2011 for a study entitled "Modelling and Mimicking the Effects of Pollution from Molluscs to Men". Principal Investigator (co-investigators Ed Routledge and Jo Bridger who are both at Brunel and Les Noble at Aberdeen University).
  8. NERC: £180,602 from 01/09/09 to 31/08/12 for a study entitled "Population Level Consequences of Exposure of Fish to Oestrogenic Wastewater Treatment Works Effluents". Collaborative study with Professor Charles Tyler at Exeter University (lead institute). I am the principal Investigator at Brunel and John Sumpter is the co-investigator.
  9. National Centre for the Refinement Reduction and Replacement of Animals in Research (NC3Rs): £380,047 from 1/11/2009 to 31/10/2012 for a study entitled "Molluscs Mice and Men". Principal Investigator. Co-investigators are Ed Routledge (Brunel), Tim Williams (AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals in-kind contribution worth £80,000) and Les Noble and Catherine Jones (Aberdeen University). Brunel is the lead institution. Total value of the grant is £525,

Research Related Consultancy 

  1. 10. Environment Agency: Two contracts totalling £4869.53 from 17/07/2006-03/07 for reading and interpreting fish histopathology slides (Principle Investigator)
  2. 11. Melbourne Water: Three contracts (TO9724, TO9807 and TO9099 amounting to £56,610.65 from 01/2007-present for a consultancy and research project entitled "Survey of endocrine disruption in wild Black Bream (Acanthopagrus butcheri) from Australia". (Principal Investigator)
  3. 12. Severn Trent Water: Two contracts (TO9820) amounting to £110,728.59 from March 2008-Present for a study entitled "Feminizing Effects of Exposure to Ilkeston Sewage Effluents (Do improvements make a difference?)". Principal Investigator
  4. 13. Thames Water: £79,572.82 from 09/08-12/09 (Contract TO9870). To carry out Pair-breeding Tests on Fathead Minnows on Improved sewage effluent from Swindon STW as part of the UK Endocrine Disrupters Demonstration Programme. Principal Investigator
  5. 14. Wessex Water: £17,991.50 from 02/08-05/08 (Contract TO9800).To carry out and interpret the results of fish tests on the Swanage sewage effluent. Principal Investigator
  6. 15. Environment Agency: £21,892.50 from 02/08-07/08 (Contract TO9775) for carrying out Fish Histological Analysis for project entitled "Modelling the potential impacts of endocrine disruption of fish populations"
  7. 16. Severn Trent Water: Three contracts totalling £143,137.93 from 1/10/08-Present (Contracts TO9872 and TO9940, TO9950) for a research project entitled "Investigation of the role of anti-androgenic constituents of treated sewage effluents in causing feminisation of fish in UK rivers" (Principal Investigator. Collaborating also with Severn Trent Laboratories).


 My research has led to regulatory action (through the EU and Member States) on some chemicals (e.g. nonylphenol and some phthalates) leading to those chemicals being severely restricted or banned. This has led to rapid improvements in water quality and hence aquatic life health. For example, my research on nonylphenols led to immediate reductions in its use (especially in industries such as textiles), and contributed significantly to the agreed phase out of this chemical throughout the European Union.

Research Interests

ecotoxicology; environmental contaminants

Research supervision

Postdoctoral researchers

05/09-05/12. Dr Margaret Mary Town (The Leverhulme Trust)

11/09-11/11. Dr Alice Baynes (3NCRs)

Postgraduate Researchers and Research Assistants

01/10-01/11. Christopher Green (Severn Trent Water & CSIRO Australia)

01/10-01-12 Elizabeth Nicol (NERC)

12/09-12/12 Satwant Kaur (3NCRs)

PhD Students Supervised

1995-2000: Monique Nolan. The Environment Agency (Joint first supervisor with Charles Tyler) (MPhil). Complete.

1996-2000: Trevor Rodgers-Gray (Joint first supervisor with Charles Tyler) The Environment Agency (PhD). Complete

2000-2003: Tamsin Runnalls (2nd supervisor with John Sumpter) NERC (PhD). Complete.

2001-2004: Katherine Liney (Joint First supervisor) The UKWIR (PhD). Complete.

2002-2004: David Hala The European Union (PhD) Complete

2002-2005: Neil Clarke NERC (PhD) Complete

2004-2007: Rachel Benstead Effects of oestrogenic chemicals on reproduction in Uk freshwater molluscs: Comparison of field and laboratory studies. DEFRA (PhD) Current

2004-2007: Alice Baynes Effects of estrogenic chemicals on freshwater mollusc reproduction in outdoor mesocosms (life cycle studies). DEFRA (PhD) Completed

2009-2012: Satwant Kaur (NC3Rs). (PhD) Current