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Development of a next-generation biosensor system for detecting concentrations and tissue distribution of heavy metals in living aquatic animals. NERC FRESH CDT studentship, PhD in Biosciences

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, December 17, 2018
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Associate Professor Steffen Scholpp, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Dr David Spurgeon, Centre for the Ecology and Hydrology (CEH)
Professor Frank Vollmer, University of Exeter
Professor Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern, University of Bath
Professor Charles Tyler, University of Exeter

Location: Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon.

The NERC Centre for Doctoral Training in Freshwater Biosciences and Sustainability (GW4 FRESH CDT) will provide a world-class doctoral research and training environment, for the next generation of interdisciplinary freshwater scientists equipped to tackle future global water challenges. GW4 FRESH harnesses freshwater scientists from four of the UK’s most research-intensive universities (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter) plus world-class research organisations the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and British Geological Survey (BGS).

For an overview of the GW4 FRESH CDT please see website

Note, the research projects listed are in competition with 23 other studentship projects available across the GW4 FRESH CDT Partnership. Up to 12 studentships will be awarded to the best applicants.

Project Details
Interest has arisen in heavy-metal contamination of the environment, mostly because of significant hazards to the health of animals and humans. Nowadays, silver is increasingly used in textiles, food packaging, medical devices and, therefore, we find rising silver concentrations in our water supply. A sensitive biosensors for detecting the bioavailability of this environmental contaminant is missing.

In this project, we will develop a novel system for assessing the bioavailability of heavy metals in the environment. To do so the student will apply a microsphere-based sensing platform to detect silver in zebrafish. First, functionalised microspheres will be introduced into the fish larvae. Then the larvae will be exposed via the water to this contaminant. During this time silver will selectively interact with the microsphere surface. After exposure, the fish larvae will be kept in water without the contaminant to study clearance. At regular intervals throughout the experiment, the larvae will be scanned by advanced light sheet microscopy to measure the metal concentration. Co-supervisor Frank Vollmer has developed this method for a fast and simultaneous read-out of multiple microsphere sensors to detect metal ions and nanoparticles and the student will use this method to analyse the individual microspheres in the fish larvae. This method will allow mapping of the distribution of silver ions in a living vertebrate animal for the first time.

The student will be supported by expertise in metal compound quantification by co-supervisors David Spurgeon at the Centre of Environments and Hydrology (CEH) and Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern (Bath).This system will allow us to establish a map of the bioavailability and clearance of these pollutants in different tissues over time. Having successfully developed and applied this system, the student will then compare the information generated on the biodistribution of these metal materials to their tissue-specific function by using newly developed transgenic reporter zebrafish at Exeter, under the supervision of co-supervisors Charles Tyler & Peter Kille (Cardiff).

The combination of being able to monitor the dynamics and bio-distribution of selected contaminants whilst simultaneously measuring target tissue responses will provide a powerful approach in our understanding of the relationships between metal bioavailability and biological responses in an organism in real time.

The successful applicant will receive training in a wide range of techniques, including ecotoxicology, molecular biology, and physics under expert tuition and they will experience different institutional environments (Universities of Exeter, Bath and Cardiff), including the stakeholder CEH, and will be integrated into large research teams with the benefits of the associated peer support.

GW4 FRESH CDT welcomes applications from both UK and EU applicants. For further information regarding the eligibility criteria please see the Student Eligibilty section in the following web page

How to apply
Applications open on Monday 8th October and close at 9:00 on 17th December 2018

You will need to complete an application to the GW4 FRESH CDT for an “offer of funding”.

Please complete the application form at also sending a copy of your CV and a covering letter to the CDT by 9:00 on 17th December 2018.

After the closing deadline all applications and CVs will be forwarded to the lead Supervisor of the project(s) you have selected. They will interview you at a mutually convenient date in January 2019 (tbc) and submit their preferred candidate to FRESH CDT.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to a panel interview in Cardiff in the week commencing 25th February 2019. Further details will be included in the shortlisting letter

For further details regarding the application process please see the following web page

Funding Notes

3.5 year studentship consisting of full UK/EU tuition fees, as well as a Doctoral Stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum.

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