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Funded PhD Studentship to study antibiotic resistance and biofilm formation in the WHO priority pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii

The McCarthy Lab at Brunel University London is excited to offer a fully funded PhD studentship to study how Acinetobacter baumannii can survive exposure to antibiotics and form a biofilm. This studentship will use state of the art in vivo methodologies coupled with high throughput screening to identify key factors regulating antibiotic resistance and biofilm formation.

Based in the College of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences; the studentship offers an annual London rate stipend of £17,609 plus Home/EU tuition fees, for a maximum of 36 months. Start date is 1st of October 2021.


Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to global healthcare systems in the 21st century. Acinetobacter baumannii is a Gram-negative coccobacillus that is associated with hospital-acquired infections worldwide. It is an opportunistic pathogen that can colonise a range of anatomical sites primarily in immunocompromised individuals leading to a variety of life-threatening clinical complications. ~2% of all health care associated infections in Europe and USA are caused by this pathogen, with even higher rates observed in South America and the Middle East. The greatest concern associated with this pathogen however is how difficult it is to treat with between 44 - 70% of clinical isolates being multidrug resistant (MDR). A. baumannii is adept at tolerating antibiotic therapy due to its large repertoire of antibiotic resistance genes and its capacity to form recalcitrant biofilms. A biofilm, by definition, is a structured community of bacterial cells enclosed in a self-produced polysaccharide matrix and adherent to an inert or living surface. Bacteria growing in a biofilm are between 10-1,000 times more tolerant to the rigors of antibiotic therapy and more protected from various environmental challenges such as disinfectants and the immune system. As a result biofilm associated infections are associated with a higher rate of mortality, prolonged hospital stays and considerable economic loss. A. baumannii biofilms are notorious for their role in foreign device-related infections such as ventilation tubes and catheters as well as in the recalcitrance of wound infections (burn, trauma, surgery). The ability to form biofilms on hospital surfaces is also linked to outbreaks in intensive care units (ICU) and burn treatment centres. This project aims to uncover the genetic architecture that controls biofilm formation in this pathogen and identify pathway disrupting molecules. Indeed, it is well recognised that interference with biofilm formation renders pathogens less infective and more sensitive to antibiotics. By gaining a greater understanding of the regulatory cascades that govern biofilm formation, it will be possible to create more targeted and effective biofilm disruption therapeutics. The prospective PhD student will use molecular biology techniques to characterise regulators of biofilm formation as well high through put screening approaches to identify new regulators. They will also use flow cell biofilm analysis, RNA-Seq and in vivo models. There is also the opportunity to collaborate with infectious disease clinicians.

The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Ronan McCarthy. For informal discussions about this studentship, please contact Dr Ronan McCarthy (ronan.mccarthy@brunel.ac.uk).


Candidates should have an undergraduate degree (first or upper second class) or equivalent qualification in Biosciences/Microbiology. A Masters qualification in a relevant area would be desirable. Experience in molecular biology and/or biofilm analysis is desirable. Applicants who have not been awarded a degree by a University in the UK will be expected to demonstrate English language skills to IELTS 7.0 (minimum 6.0 in any section).

How to apply

interviews to take place the following week.

  • An up-to-date CV.
  • A single-page A4 single-spaced personal statement setting out why you are a suitable candidate (i.e. outlining your qualifications and skills).
  • One example of your academic writing (e.g. an essay, publication, a section from an undergraduate or a Masters dissertation).
  • Names and contact details for two academic referees.
  • A copy of your highest degree certificate and transcript.
  • A copy of your English language qualification, where applicable.

Short-listed applicants will be required to attend an interview. Applicants chosen for interview will be instructed to submit a formal online application via Admissions.

For further information about how to apply, please contact the College of Health and Life Sciences Postgraduate Research Student Office on chmls-pgr-office@brunel.ac.uk

Meet the Supervisor for this Studentship

Ronan McCarthy - Ronan gained his Bachelor of Science in Genetics with first class honours from University College Cork, Ireland in 2010 and was awarded the title of College Scholar. In autumn 2010, Ronan was awarded an Irish Research Council PhD Scholarship to study novel biofilm inhibition strategies against the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa in the lab of Professor Fergal O’Gara. In 2014, Ronan joined the research group of Professor Alain Filloux at the MRC Centre for Bacteriology and Infection at Imperial College London. As a Postdoctoral Research Associate, Ronan interrogated the second messenger signalling cascades that govern the biofilm mode of growth in Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Agrobacterium tumefaciens. Following on from his time at Imperial College Ronan joined the Microbiology Department at the Animal and Plant Health Agency where he used host transcriptomics and pathway analysis to profile the host response to infection. He joined the Biosciences Division in Brunel University to continue his analysis of the regulatory networks that govern pathogenicity, antimicrobial resistance and biofilm formation in the Gram negative opportunistic pathogens Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii.