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Antibiotic resistant bacteria in Scottish bathing and surface waters

Project Description

This project is one of 9 four-year PhD Studentships funded by Medical Research Scotland ( to be delivered jointly by the named University and Company. The Studentship will provide the first-class academic and commercial training needed to equip the successful candidate for a science career in an increasingly competitive market. It will include 8 months training with Scottish Water and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) gaining valuable experience in public health microbiology and epidemiology.

"The prevalence, sources and diversity of antibiotic resistant E. coli in Scottish surface waters: a baseline for risk assessment and intervention targets" to be delivered by the Edinburgh Napier University [Supervisors: Dr Donal Morrison and Dr Fiona Stainsby (both School of Applied Sciences)] and Scottish Water ( [Company supervisor: Mr George Ponton].

The alarming rise in resistance to antibiotics is now widely accepted as being one of the most serious public health crises we face today. The use and overuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine and especially the overuse in animal food production are the main drivers for the emergence of resistance. However, recent research suggests that the natural environment, and especially surface water, is the single largest source of antibiotic resistance. Surveillance is key to inform public health actions and strategies. A number of national monitoring schemes provide ongoing data on antibiotic resistance in human and animal settings, however, no such data is available on environmental antibiotic resistance. The urgency for such data was recently recognised by an EU Committee who called for mandatory monitoring of antibiotic resistance in the environment at a national level to tackle the spread of antibiotic resistance from the environment to humans. This project will provide the first nationwide data on antibiotic resistance in Scottish surface waters. This baseline data will be used to assess the risk to human health and to determine if intervention measures are required to ensure that drinking water sources and bathing waters are protected.

The aim of the project is to determine the prevalence, major sources and diversity of antibiotic resistant E. coli in Scottish surface waters in order to provide a baseline for future risk assessment and intervention strategies. The work will be undertaken under three objectives: (1) determine the prevalence of antibiotic resistant E. coli in representative Scottish surface waters monitored over a one year period; (2) identify the major sources of antibiotic resistant E. coli present in Scottish surface waters by using Microbial Source Tracking methods; and (3) establish the population diversity of antibiotic resistant E. coli in Scottish surface waters by WGS core genome and resistance genome analysis.


Enquiries should be sent by email to Dr Donald Morrison:


Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a first or 2.1 UK honours degree, or equivalent for degrees obtained outside the UK, in Biology, ideally in Microbiology, with a good fundamental knowledge of techniques used to study microorganisms.

Essential attributes:
• Experience of fundamental microbiology practical skills
• Competent in data analysis
• Knowledge of molecular biology
• Good written/oral communication skills
• Strong motivation, evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project
• Good time management

Desirable attributes:
• Experience in epidemiological typing of bacteria
• Experience in whole genome sequencing
• Good statistical skills

English language
• IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in each of the four components). Equivalent qualifications will be accepted.

Applications must be submitted online via the link at
Once on the page, scroll down to Formal Applications and click on "Applied Sciences: Full-Time" to apply.

When submitting your online application, please also provide a CV, the contact details of 2 academic references (including email addresses) and a covering letter, explaining why you wish to carry out this project.

Please note, your application may be shared with the funders of this PhD Studentship, Medical Research Scotland and Scottish Water.

Interviews are expected to take place 3-4 weeks after the closing date.

It is anticipated that the PhD Studentship will start in October 2019.

Funding Notes

PhD Studentship provides: an annual tax-free stipend of £17,500, increasing to £18,000 over the four years; tuition fees at UK/EU rates only; consumables; and contribution to travel expenses.

International fees are not covered. International students applying for the Studentship must provide evidence by the date of interview that they are able to finance the fee top-up required to the international fee level.


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