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Burgess project: How do discharged antibiotics influence environmental antibiotic resistance?

Department of Biology

About the Project

The growing risk of antibiotic resistance threatens the advancements in healthcare made over the past 50 years. The environmental burden of antibiotic resistance is increasingly recognised as a contributor to the global resistance threat. Human use and consumption of antibiotics result in a fraction of unmetabolised drug passing through the patient. As this unmetabolised material is cleared from the patient it inevitably results in antibiotics being dispersed into the sewer system where they are subjected to bulk wastewater treatments such as activated sludge, anaerobic digestion and trickle-bed filters, which all utilise the biological activity of microbial communities. Treated material, often in the form of anaerobic digestate can then be applied to land as a nitrogen-rich fertiliser or finished treated wastewater, which can be used as alternative for freshwater irrigation in drought stressed regions.
Microbial communities will be sampled throughout the wastewater treatment process from arrival on site to discharge and in digestate and soils where this material is used to determine whether these drugs result in additional antimicrobial resistance (AMR) within environmental microbial communities. This project will utilise a range of molecular techniques to determine the concentrations, fate and influence of discharged antibiotics on the microbial communities that come into contact with this disposal route. Antibiotic concentrations will be measured using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry methods and the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance genes assessed using qPCR and NGS methods. Different wastewater treatment methods will be assessed for their effects on antibiotic removal and potential to propagate AMR genes through microbial populations.
Li, Y., Sallach, J.B., Zhang, W., Boyd, S.A., Li, H. 2018. Insight into the distribution of pharmaceuticals in soil-water-plant systems. Water Research. 152: 38-46 Williams-Nguyen, J., Sallach, J.B., Bartelt-Hunt, S.L., Boxall, A.B., Durso, L.M., McLain, J.E., Singer, R.S., Snow, D.D., Zilles, J.L. 2016. Antibiotics and antibiotic resistance in agroecosystems: State of the Science. Journal of Environmental Quality. 45: 394-406. Sallach, J.B., Zhang, Y., Snow, D.D., Hodges, L., Li, X., Bartelt-Hunt, S.L. 2015. Concomitant uptake of antimicrobials and Salmonella to soil and into lettuce following wastewater irrigation. Journal of Environmental Pollution. 197: 269-277. Tao, B., Alessi, A., Zhang, Y., Heaven, S., Chong, J.P.J., Banks, C. 2019 Simultaneous biomethanisation of endogenous and imported CO2 in organically loaded anaerobic digesters. Applied Energy. 247: 670-681. Alessi, A., Redeker, K.R., Chong, J.P.J. 2018. A practical introduction to microbial molecular ecology through the use of isolation chips. Ecology and Evolution. 8: 12286-12298.

The Department of Biology at the University of York is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Funding Notes

This project will be fully-funded by the James Burgess Scholarship for three years. The funding includes:

Tax-free annual stipend at UKRI rate (£15,285 for 2020/21)
UK tuition fees (£4,473 for 2021/22)
Research support and training charges (RSTC)

Only UK students are eligible for this funding scheme.

A number of projects are competing for this funding scheme, each will nominate their strongest candidate to a Selection Panel. Nominated candidates will be invited for interview but only one student will be offered the studentship.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions.

START DATE: 1st October 2021

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