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Antimicrobial resistance in marine mammals (seals) from polluted waters


   Environmental Science

  , Dr Ashley Houlden  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

This project for self-funded students only 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 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 (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. Please note this project is for self-funded students only.

Research journey

Doctoral research programmes (PhDs) take a proud place in the world-class research environment and community at Brunel. PhD students are recognised and valued by their supervisors as an essential part of their departments and a key component of the university's overall strategy to develop and deliver world-class research.

A PhD programme is expected to take 3 years full-time or 6 years part-time, with intakes starting in January, April or October.

The general University entrance requirement for registration for a research degree is normally a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree (1st or 2:1) or an international equivalent. A Masters degree is a welcome, but not required, qualification for entry.

Find out how to apply for a PhD at Brunel

Research support

Excellent research support and training

The Graduate School provides a range of personal, professional and career development opportunities. This includes workshops, online training, coaching and events, to enable you to enhance your professional profile, refine your skills, and plan your next career steps as part of the Researcher Development Programme. The researcher development programme (RDP) offers workshops and seminars in a range of areas including progression, research management, research dissemination, and careers and personal development. You will also be offered a number of online, self-study courses on BBL, including Research Integrity, Research Skills Toolkit, Research Methods in Literature Review and Principles of Research Methods.

Library services

Brunel's Library is open 24 hours a day, has 400,000 books and 250,000 ebooks, and an annual budget of almost £2m. Subject information Specialists train students in the latest technology, digital literacy, and digital dissemination of scholarly outputs. As well as the physical resources available in the Library, we also provide access to a wealth of electronic resources. These include databases, journals and e-books. Access to these resources has been bought by the Library through subscription and is limited to current staff and students. 

Dedicated research support staff provide guidance and training on open access, research data management, copyright and other research integrity issues.

Find out more: Brunel Library

Careers support

You will receive tailored careers support during your PhD and for up to three years after you complete your research at Brunel. We encourage you to actively engage in career planning and managing your personal development right from the start of your research, even (or perhaps especially) if you don't yet have a career path in mind. Our careers provision includes online information and advice, one-to-one consultations and a range of events and workshops. The Professional Development Centre runs a varied programme of careers events throughout the academic year. These include industry insight sessions, recruitment fairs, employer pop-ups and skills workshops.


Funding Notes

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: View Website. The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

How good is research at Brunel University London in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?


Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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