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Antimicrobial resistance in marine mammals (seals) from polluted waters

This project offers the right candidate a £5000 bursary contribution in the first year only. Please contact the supervisor for more detail.

This project addresses an urgent Global Challenge – the growing widespread incidence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It will be the first to investigate an unreported alarming concern, that wild seals are dying of from AMR bacterial infections and mortality is greater in more polluted waters.

Recent evidence suggests industrial pollutants are a more plausible explanation of the widespread global problem of AMR bacteria not the overuse of antibiotics in medicine as widely believed. Furthermore, industrial pollutants are immunosuppressive, in mammals including humans, so highly contaminated individuals will be more susceptible to infections. Pollutants and antibiotics contaminate the marine food chain via industrial and municipal (including hospital) wastewater discharges. Seals are invaluable surrogates for humans, sharing similar physiology and both being top predators of the same food chain, causing them to be exposed to the same biomagnified concentrations of persistent industrial pollutants and aquatic bacteria.

This project aims to:

  1. Determine industrial pollutant and antibiotic concentrations in seal tissue samples to identify prevalent pathogenic AMR bacteria in samples from seals inhabiting highly polluted estuaries fed by rivers draining from industrialised, heavily polluted waters.
  2. Establish the microbiome using swabs collected from the marine food chain (seals, fish etc)
  3. Test antimicrobial resistance of bacteria cultured from seals, fish and sediments collected from study areas.
  4. Analysis of population data and veterinary/pathological findings from wildlife vets to understand the population impact of terminal disease in seals from resistant bacterial infections.

Fieldwork, lab and desk work will all be required.

Desirable Knowledge/skills (but training will also be provided also.

  • Analytical chemistry
  •  PCR
  • cell culture
  • Immunoassay
  • Statistics

IMPORTANT: Please list the modules from your degrees (with grades), especially the dissertation. A recent photograph on your CV always helps.


How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you would be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a partially funded topic

This project offers the right candidate a £5000 bursary contribution in the first year only. Please contact the supervisor for more detail.

Meet the Supervisor(s)

Gera Troisi - Dr Gera M. Troisi is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering in the College of Engineering and Design at Brunel University London since 2001, delivering undergraduate and postgraduate modules on Environmental, Health & Safety  Management towards Sustainable Engineering Solutions. She has supervised several postgraduate students to successful completion of PhD-doctoral degrees, MPhil and MRes. She is a Chartered Toxicologist-Ecotoxicologist (UK & Europe) and is a member of the Risk Assessment Committee (RAC) of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) which advises on the classification, labelling and restriction of chemicals within the European Union under the REACH and CLP regulations. Her principal research interests are environmental toxicology of humans and wildlife (ecotoxicology, endocrine disruption, biomonitoring, biosensors, environmental analysis); Risk Assessment and Aquaculture. She has over 40 research publications covering these disciplines. She has coordinated a number of research and consultancy projects related to environmental toxicology funded by both non-governmental (RSPCA, WWF, Care for the Wild, Greenpeace) and governmental agencies (DEFRA) and industry (Safeway, Slimming Systems Ltd and Lufthansa-Hawker Pacific Aerospace). Before beginning her career in academia, Dr Troisi worked as a Senior Scientific Officer in the Medical Research Council (MRC) Institute for Environment & Health. She holds a doctorate degree in Environmental Toxicology from the University of Essex and is a member of the British and European Toxicology Societies. Dr Troisi offers the following consultancy services: Medical Device Risk Management; Environmental Risk Assessment; Health Risk Assessment; Ecological Risk Assessment; Life Cycle Analysis; Environmental Impact Assessment; Health and Ecological Impacts; Laboratory analysis of environmental pollutants (polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and metabolites (Methyl sulphones), pesticides, heavy metals and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); emergent pollutants (brominated flame retardants)) drugs and biologically-active compounds (steroid hormones).

Ashley Houlden - I am a Microbial Ecologist in the Division of Biosciences, within the College of Health and Life Sciences at the University of Brunel London. My research interests lie in the assessment of microbial community structure and function using high throughput sequencing and molecular microbiological techniques. Focusing on the Host microbiome their interaction with one another in this community and changes as a result of disease or injury, this characterisation of the communities allows the identification of functionally important changes in microbial assemblages and detection of Antimicrobial Resistance. My research has included work on the impact of stroke, brain injury, parasitic intestinal infections, and dementia on the interactions with the host and its microbiome. One of my Current research focus areas is women's health, I am studying bacterial vaginosis, the interaction of microbes present in the vagina, detection of potential pathogens, and the development of an in-house in vitro model system using Organ on a Chip technology for 3D tissue culture to simulate the vaginal environment. Linked to this I am interested in the impact that space travel and microgravity has on microbial populations and implications for health. I am also interested in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and detection of AMR in bacterial communities with a focus on the environmental impact and ecological implications of this. It is becoming increasing an issue that AMR organisms are colonising animal populations and if these pathogens are accumulated in Apex predators via food chain acquisition. My Doctorial training was in soil microbial ecology carrying out risk assessments and the efficacy of using bacterial biological control agents against fungi diseases of crops in laboratory, glass house and field experiments while at CEH-Oxford/Cardiff University. I then undertook postdoctoral research at The University of Sheffield followed by The University of Manchester continuing research into environmental microbiology looking a biogeochemical cycling of Nitrogen and sulphur. While at Manchester I moved into medical microbiome research as Researcher Co-Investigator on a grant on T. Muris and the impact on the microbiome and host. As a result of this I have formed a number of collaborations involving microbiome research.