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Does microplastic exposure impact our health and cause immune dysfunction? MRC GW4 BioMed DTP PhD studentship

   School of Biochemistry

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  Dr H Weavers, Dr Antoine Buchard, Dr O Peters  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

HOW TO APPLY: Deadline for applications: 5:00 pm on Wednesday, 2nd November 2022

For an overview of the MRC GW4 BioMed programme please see the website  All applications must be submitted online via here 

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: Microplastics (MPs) are increasingly prevalent in our environment and are now recognised as a growing threat to human and marine health. Humans are estimated to consume over 10,000 MPs a year, but exactly how MPs impact our health is alarmingly unclear. MPs have been found in a huge variety of human and animal tissues – and can even cross the blood brain barrier and placenta - suggesting that once consumed, they disseminate widely throughout the body. Initial studies suggest that MPs not only have the potential to trigger extensive cellular damage, but may also be carcinogenic and exacerbate antimicrobial resistance. However, the exact impact of MP exposure on our cells, tissues and overall health remains immensely under-explored.

 There is a clear need for cutting-edge research to investigate the effects of MPs at multiple scales – from their biochemical effects at the cellular level through to their effect on tissue physiology and whole organism survival. In this project, we will identify the molecular consequences of MP uptake on cells and tissues, and explore whether prolonged MP exposure even weakens immunity. We will integrate in vivo animal models with in vitro analyses of mammalian (including human) cells, and engage with chemists to test novel bioplastic alternatives. This project builds on exciting data from the lab showing that MPs accumulate within specific cell types (including immune cells called macrophages) and cause substantial tissue damage, which negatively impacts on animal health.

 Using state-of-the-art live imaging, cell biology and genetics, we will study how MPs disseminate in vivo and what the downstream consequences are to cell and tissue health. We will explore exactly how MPs interact with immune cells (e.g. macrophages or microglia) at the molecular level and whether MP uptake causes immune suppression. In parallel, we will test if MP material and size influences their downstream biological effects. Ultimately, we will use our models to test whether novel sustainable (bioderived and degradable) polymers offer a biologically safer alternative.

The student will learn extensive skills in experimental in vivo and in vitro cell biology, as well as quantitative biology and bioinformatics. The in vivo studies will involve state-of-the-art live imaging, genetic manipulation, omics and molecular biology within Drosophila, and be complemented by cutting-edge in vitro assays using mammalian and human cells. The student will also learn fundamentals of synthetic polymer chemistry and have the opportunity to be trained in polymer synthesis techniques. 

For more information about us and our recent work, please see our lab website! Informal enquiries can also be addressed directly to [Email Address Removed] and are very welcome. 


1. Vethaak & Legler (2021) Microplastics and human health Science 371:672-674
2. Lim (2021) Microplastics are everywhere — but are they harmful? Nature 593:22-25
3. Carrington (2022) Microplastics found in human blood for first time The Guardian
FUNDING INFORMATION: The GW4 BioMed2 MRC DTP studentships are available to UK and International applicants. Following Brexit, the UKRI now classifies EU students as international. The GW4 partners have all agreed to cover the difference in costs between home and international tuition fees. This means that international candidates will not be expected to cover this cost and will be fully funded, but need to be aware that they will be required to cover the cost of their student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. Studentships will be 4 years full time or up to 8 years part-time.
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