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Burgess project: Understanding antibiotic resistance evolution in the environment

Department of Biology

About the Project

Tens of thousands of tons of antimicrobial compounds are used across the globe for the treatment of humans and animals. During this process, antibiotics are released to the natural environment from the manufacturing process, human wastewaters, disposal of medical wastes and animal manures. Growing evidence suggest that the release of antibiotics to these natural environments creates a significant selection pressure for the evolution and emerge of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Moreover, it has recently been shown that antibiotic resistance can evolve even at very low antibiotic concentrations typical for non-clinical environments and that simultaneous exposure to multiple antibiotics can speed up the resistance evolution. Regardless, the risk of antibiotic resistance evolving under these conditions is not recognized by current safety discharge limits. The proposed PhD project will experimentally study the evolution of antibiotic resistance using realistic antibiotic concentrations and combinations typical for natural river systems. The research objectives are to:

O1. Identify antibiotic combinations that together select for evolution of antibiotic resistance even at low concentrations

O2. Employ genome sequencing to unravel key mechanisms underlying resistance evolution

O3. Re-evaluate current safe antibiotic discharge limits based on antibiotic resistance (O1) and global river sampling survey data of known antibiotic combinations and concentrations in global river network.

Experimental work will use a combination of in vitro microcosm experiments and genome sequencing to determine antibiotic resistance evolution of key clinical pathogens (P. aeruginosa, E. coli, S. aureus) under a range of antibiotic combinations in sublethal concentrations. The project will also build upon global river sampling survey that has determined the prevalence of antibiotics globally. An ideal candidate will have a background in at least one of the main subject areas (microbiology, experimental evolution, pathology, environmental chemistry) and willingness to develop skills in the other areas.

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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