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Deciphering the Built Environment Microbiome (Ref: ET20/HLS/APP/SHERRY)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, May 08, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The impact that the construction of new dwellings has on our rural and urban environments is still in its infancy. Understanding this is of the utmost importance as the UK government has pledged to build half a million homes between 2020 and 2022 to meet the demand of a growing population. It has been estimated that American citizens spend 90% of their lives indoors (1) and despite the age of this study it is unlikely that people are now spending less time inside. Much remains unknown about the microorganisms within the built environment microbiome and their interactions with humans.

Microbes can exert beneficial, neutral or deleterious influences within the built environment microbiome (2). Within our homes and urban dwellings in both natural and engineered environments, microbes are essential for biogeochemical cycling e.g. metabolising and biodegrading wastes, reducing pollution, and generating energy and high-value products. This study will aim to better understand the microbiome of the built environment using high-throughput sequencing technologies to determine key microbial communities and their function. Furthermore, the microbial community data generated will be used to computationally predict the interaction between the built environment and the microbiome, and how potentially modifying the urban microbiome may benefit human health and wellbeing. Movement of the microbiome within urban spaces on natural and synthetic materials will also be investigated.

We are looking to appoint a highly motivated PhD student to join the world’s first Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment (HBBE, This is a £8M initiative between Northumbria and Newcastle Universities funded by Research England. The Hub will develop biotechnologies to create a new generation of buildings which are responsive to their environment, grown using engineered living materials, metabolise their own waste, and modulate their microbiome to benefit human health. The Hub is a strategic expansion that will include 13 new academic staff, supported by 5 PDRAs, 14 PhD students and 3 support staff. The Hub will include 3 new research facilities that will integrate our research: the Micro Bio-Design Lab (Northumbria) including state-of-the-art sequencing technologies, the Macro Bio-Design Lab (Newcastle) and a unique Experimental ‘Living’ House, ‘The OME’. This multi-disciplinary PhD project will provide skills in molecular microbiology, biogeochemistry, biodesign, materials science, biotechnology and bioinformatics.

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.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications should include a covering letter that includes a short summary (500 words max.) of a relevant piece of research that you have previously completed and the reasons you consider yourself suited to the project. Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. ET20/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 8th May 2020
Start Date: 1st Aug 2020

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

For informal enquiries please contact Dr Angela Sherry ()

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home and EU students with a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2020/21, this is £15,285 pa) and full Home/ EU Fees.


(1) Klepeis et al., 2001. J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol, 11, 231-252


Dr Angela Sherry – google scholar publications:

The Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment:

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