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Determining the molecular mode of action of Home and Personal Care (HPC) product preservatives and characterising antimicrobial resistance in problematic bacterial contaminants

   Cardiff School of Biosciences

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  Prof E Mahenthiralingam, Dr E Lloyd-Evans  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Each year, millions of tonnes of home and personal care (HPC) products, including cleaning products, cosmetics and toiletries are manufacturer globally. To keep these products free from microorganisms, industrial manufacturers add antimicrobial preservatives. However, products occasionally become contaminated with microorganisms, the most common of which are antimicrobial resistant bacteria which can also cause human infections.     

The HPC industry is undergoing considerable change, needing to reduce the use of environmentally toxic preservatives, consumer pressure to use natural and milder but less effective preservatives, and the urgent requirement to reduce single‐use plastic packaging. The changes are conducive to increased HPC product contamination, and a potential rise in antimicrobial resistant (AMR) bacteria causing outbreaks of infection.    

We have teamed up with Unilever Research & Development (Port Sunlight, UK) to offer a CASE PhD studentship aimed at filling multiple knowledge gaps in relation to the use of preservatives and new multifunctional product ingredients. Past collaborative PhD training between Cardiff University and Unilever has investigated a range of problematic antimicrobial resistant bacteria including Burkholderia, Pseudomonas and Enterobacteriaceae. These species are considered priorities in relation to the development of new HPC preservation strategies.     

The proposed PhD will examine the mechanisms behind preservative mode of action and resistance in the priority bacterial contaminants. This knowledge will provide industrial manufacturers with solutions to improve HPC preservation and preventing the development of further antimicrobial resistance.

The project will specifically:    

  1. Use molecular and genomic techniques to understand how preservatives and multifunctional ingredients work to suppress or kill bacteria, as well as how the industrial contaminant resist these important antimicrobials.    
  2. Monitor and identify priority contaminants causing manufacturing incidents using molecular methods including PCR, whole genome sequencing and sequencing the entire DNA content of the industrial products (metagenomic analysis).    
  3. Understand how large plasmids (called megaplasmids) specifically help priority contaminants survive the harsh antimicrobial‐rich conditions in HPC products

A common feature of the Burkholderia, Pseudomonas and Enterobacteriaceae bacteria found within industrial products is that they have acquired megaplasmid DNA. With a variety of known and unknown genes present on these megaplasmids, we do not know which may play a role in mediating antimicrobial resistance and the ability of the bacteria to survive industrial preservation. 

Second supervisor: Prof Edward Feil (University of Bath)

Non‐academic (CASE) supervisor: Stuart Campbell‐Lee (Unilever Research and Development) 

Host institution: Cardiff University

CASE partner: Unilever Research and Development, Port Sunlight


Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a Master’s degree or have significant relevant research or non-academic experience.

In addition, due to the strong mathematical component of the taught course in the first year and the quantitative emphasis in our projects, quantitative/mathematical experience is needed. This can be demonstrated through one or more of the following:

  • Undertaking units as part of your degree that have a significant quantitative/mathematical component*
  • Maths or Physics A-level (grade B and above)

*Significant mathematical component examples include; maths, statistics, bioinformatics.

Applicants must ensure they highlight their quantitative/mathematical background within their application and to upload any supporting evidence. Full criteria can be found here -

How to Apply

Application guidance:

Please read the Cardiff SWBio DTP programme information before completing your application.

  • Applications can be submitted here -
  • When completing your application, please list Doctor of Philosophy as the 'qualification' and 1 October 2023 as the 'start date'.
  • You will need to include the project you are applying to and the main supervisor as part of the application.
  • For funded studentships: When asked if you are intending to self-fund, please select No and within the text box list BBSRC South Bioscience DTP
  • You will need to submit a separate application for each project you wish to be considered for.

Full guidance notes

Funding Notes

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover: a stipend* (at the standard UKRI rate; £16,062 per annum for 2022-2023), research and training costs
tuition fees **, additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month placement.
A limited number (up to 30%) of UKRI fully-funded studentships are available through the SWBio DTP, that applicants who would be classed as an International student are eligible for.
** International students will not be required to cover the difference between home and international tuition fees

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