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Antibiotics removal from wastewater using microalgae

About This PhD Project

Project Description


The ability of disease causing and other bacteria to render current antibiotics ineffective due to acquiring antibiotic resistance (AMR) is predicted to kill 10 million people every year by 2050 without action. The UK government has recently published a vision and national action plan for how the UK will contribute to containing and controlling AMR by 2040, with aims to cut the number of drug-resistant infections by 10% (5,000 infections) by 2025.

Human excretion of dosed antibiotics and subsequent discharge into the aquatic environment via wastewaters treatment plants (WWTPs) effluent is the main route environmental exposure to these compounds. AMR resistant environmental bacteria may have an impact on humans via direct ingestion; crop and animal husbandry; food preparation; etc.

Some of the antibiotics currently used in the UK are resistant to degradation and conventional physico-chemical and biological processes in WWTPs only partially remove them. While advanced treatment technologies are available for removing antibiotics, the low removal efficiencies and/or financial and technical limitations indicates the need for better treatment strategies for the removal of these antibiotics especially low tech solutions that can be applied in rural locations.

Work undertaking via a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship here at GCU has demonstrated the potential of a microalgae Chlamydomonas acidophila, a novel species which requires light levels much lower than normal, to remove the antibiotics: erythromycin and clarithromycin from WWTP effluents. This alga was capable of reducing environmentally relevant concentrations of the antibiotics to zero after 7 days.

GCU, part of the Interreg North West Europe proposal, has evaluated phosphorous recovery using these microalgae and has shown the potential to recover higher nutrients concentrations than other algal species requiring higher light supplies. Currently, GCU is working with Scottish Water to evaluate the performance of a 500l algal bioreactor at SW test site as a tertiary treatment process.


- Investigate the ability to remove a wider range of antibiotics by Chlamydomonas acidophila and investigate the potential of utilising other well-known species used for wastewater treatment such as Chlorella vulgaris.

- Investigate the ability of the selected microalgae to remove these antibiotics long-term on a scale relevant to Scottish situations.

- Investigate the occurrence and development of AMR in bacterial populations exposed to wastewater “treated” by the microalgae.


Applicants should hold a UK honours degree 2:1 (or equivalent) in a relevant scientific discipline.

Additional application requirements: only include the following if you wish the applicant to provide a worked up research proposal for the project or you have other application requirements additional to the standard application materials.
Candidates are requested to submit a more detailed research proposal (of a maximum of 2000 words) on the project area as part of their application.

Research Strategy and Research Profile

Glasgow Caledonian University’s research is framed around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; we address these Goals via three societal challenge areas of Inclusive Societies, Healthy Lives and Sustainable Environments. This studentship fits with the objectives and aims of both Healthy Lives and Sustainable Environments strategies as it address on of the major current societal threats (AMR) and the effect of remediation on environmental exposure.

Additionally, this studentship will strengthen ties with our current research partners and build on related projects: phos4you; PILLS; noPILLS and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship.

This project is part of the research activity of the Water Research Group.

How to Apply

Applicants will normally hold a UK honours degree 2:1 (or equivalent); or a Master’s degree in a subject relevant to the research project. Equivalent professional qualifications and any appropriate research experience may be considered. A minimum English language level of IELTS score of 6.5 (or equivalent) with no element below 6.0 is required. Some research disciplines may require higher levels.

Candidates are encouraged to contact the research supervisors for the project before applying. Applicants should complete the online GCU Research Application Form, stating the Project Title and Reference Number (listed above).

Please also attach to the online application, copies of academic qualifications (including IELTS if required), 2 references and any other relevant documentation.

Please send any enquiries regarding your application to: Applicants shortlisted for the PhD project will be contacted for an interview.

For more information on How to apply and the online application form please go to

Dr Ania Escudero

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