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Assessment of the impacts of regulatory anaerobic crop protection product degradation protocols on soil microbial communities to determine the variation between laboratory and field DT50 trials. (ref: RDFC22/HLS/APP/SHERRY)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

   Thursday, June 30, 2022  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Microbial communities are key drivers of soil biogeochemical cycling providing numerous critical ecosystem services and are key contributors to the global response to climate change [1]. However, our understanding of the growth and activity of microorganisms in soils that mediate these processes, as individual species, genera, and communities, is poorly understood and challenges remain for our ability to maximize the beneficial ecosystem services they provide [2]. This includes quantifying the potential impacts of crop protection products (CPP), fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, on soil microbial community composition and function. As part of the registration processes for CPP, their persistence in soils must be determined to ensure that they will not pose a risk to human health or the environment. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have guidelines that advise that laboratory testing process for determining CPP persistence in soils. As part of Guideline 307 persistence tests must be conducted under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions. However, for anaerobic testing substantial discrepancies are observed between laboratory and field study findings, with CPP degrading faster in the field than in anaerobic OECD tests. The discrepancy is likely the result of deviations from natural conditions or the loss of key anaerobic microbes during soil preparation. As a result, anaerobic OECD tests can misrepresent the persistence of CPP in the environment and our understanding of the metabolic competency of soil anaerobic microbial communities remains limited.

This PhD studentship will determine the impact of OECD soil preparation for lab anaerobic CPP testing on soil microbial community composition and function in comparison to field trials. Results will inform and improve conceptual models for CPP anaerobic degradation, inform environmental persistence testing and improve understanding of anaerobic soil microbial communities and their role in soil biogeochemical cycling. In collaboration with leaders in the agritech industry, Syngenta, the study will systematically examine the changes in microbial community composition and function, using next-generation sequencing (NGS), in response to addition of CPP to soils in laboratory and field tests. CPP breakdown will be monitored using radio-labeled CPP (14C) and LC-MS/MS.

The student will be based predominantly in Applied Sciences, Northumbria University, with access to state-of-the-art laboratory and 'omics facilities. A minimum of 3 months will be spent on placement with Syngenta (Jealott’s Hill site), where access to analytical instrumentation with appropriate supervision and training will be provided. Presentation by the student at annual external collaboration events hosted by Syngenta and conferences will provide the student with opportunities for networking. 

The studentship presents an exciting opportunity to work collaboratively across academia and the agritech industry with Northumbria University, Newcastle University and Syngenta (https://www.syngenta.com/en).



[1] Smercina et al., 2021 10.1093/femsec/fiab091. [2] Baveye et al., 2018 10.3389/fmicb.2018.01929.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

•       Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non- UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

•       Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

•       Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/research/postgraduate-research-degrees/how-to-apply/


Please note: All applications must include a covering letter (up to 1000 words maximum) including why you are interested in this PhD, a summary of the relevant experience you can bring to this project and of your understanding of this subject area with relevant references (beyond the information already provided in the advert). Applications that do not include the advert reference number (RDFC22/HLS/APP/SHERRY) will not be considered.


Deadline for applications: 30th June 2022

Start Date: 1st October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Informal enquiries to Dr Angela Sherry ()

Funding Notes

The studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2022/23 this is £16,062 per year) and full tuition fees. Only Home candidates may apply, due to funding constraints.
Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:
• Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
• have settled status, or
• have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
• have indefinite leave to remain or enter.


Selected publications relevant to the characterisation of anaerobic microbial communities:
Bell E, Rattray JE, Sloan K, Sherry A, Pilloni G, Hubert CRJ. Extremely thermophilic endospores germinate and metabolise organic carbon in sediments heated to above 80°C. bioRxiv 2021.10.10.463673; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.10.10.463673.
Sherry A, Grant RJ, Aitken CM, Jones M, Bowler BFJ, Larter SR, Head IM, Gray ND.
Methanogenic crude oil-degrading microbial consortia are not universally abundant in anoxic environments. International Biodeterioration and Biodegradation 2020, 155, 105085.
Blake LI, Sherry A, Mejeha OK, Leary P, Coombs H, Stone W, Head IM, Gray ND. An
unexpectedly broad thermal and salinity-tolerant estuarine methanogen community. Microorganisms 2020, 8 (10), 1467.
de Rezende JR, Oldenburg TBP, Korin T, Richardson WDL, Fustic M, Aitken CM, Bowler BFJ, Sherry A, et al. Anaerobic microbial communities and their potential for bioenergy production in heavily biodegraded petroleum reservoirs. Environmental Microbiology 2020, 22 (8), 3049-3065.
Bell E, Sherry A, Pilloni G, Suarez-Suarez A, Cramm MA, Cueto G, Head IM, Hubert CRJ. Sediment cooling triggers germination and sulfate reduction by heat-resistant thermophilic spore forming bacteria. Environmental Microbiology 2020, 22 (1), 456-465.
Cappello S, Cruz Viggi C, Yakimov M, Rossetti S, Matturro B, Molina L, Segura A, Marqus S,Yuste L, Sevilla E, Rojo F, Sherry A, et al. Combining electrokinetic transport and bioremediation for enhanced removal of crude oil from contaminated marine sediments: Results of a long-term, mesocosm-scale experiment. Water Research 2019, 157, 381-395.
Daghio M, Vaiopoulou E, Aulenta F, Sherry A, Head I, Franzetti A, Rabaey K. Anode potential selection for sulfide removal in contaminated marine sediments. Journal of Hazardous Materials 2018, 360, 498-503.
Bell E, Blake LI, Sherry A, Head IM, Hubert C. Distribution of thermophilic endospores in a temperate estuary indicate that dispersal history structures sediment microbial communities. Environmental Microbiology 2018, 20(3), 1134-1147.

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