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  Eastbio Developing bacteriophage technology to target foodborne Escherichia coli O157 in packed foods

   PHD Opportunities

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  Dr Janet Nale, Dr M Moseley, Dr N Holden, Dr Geoffrey Foster  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The proposed project seeks to develop an innovative bacteriophage (phage, virus of bacteria) technology to control the Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157 safely and effectively in food packaging to complement other control and surveillance strategies, and to save lives.

STEC is an important foodborne zoonotic pathogen responsible for serious life-threatening gastroenteritis characterised by severe abdominal pain, bloody diarrhoea and occasional vomiting in humans. The infection is globally disseminated with over 2.8 million hospitalisations and 230 deaths reported annually. Further complications including haemolytic uraemic syndrome and end-stage renal failure can occur in ~10% of patients, especially children.

STEC is acquired through faecal-oral route. The infection can be self-limiting and current surveillance and control strategies are important in their own merit to reduce infection rates. However, spontaneous severe outbreaks caused by emerging and prevalent serogroups such as the E. coli O157 acquired through eating contaminated fresh vegetables and meats are still reported worldwide. The infection is further compounded by dwindling antibiotic innovations to combat the antimicrobial resistance associated with the pathogen.

To effectively control E. coli O157 and alleviate the impending global health crisis by antimicrobial resistance, there is the urgent need to identify and mitigate knowledge gaps in the infection control. In this project, the relevant gap has been carefully identified and would be addressed through exploring innovative and effective control strategies, using phage technology in food packaging to complement existing methods.

Phages are natural enemies of bacteria and have great advantages over antibiotics. They are easy to isolate and develop, can effectively target and kill antimicrobial resistant bacteria in biofilms (which are common in food packaging), safe on gut microbiome and amplify at infection sites ensuring continuous dose supply. Although discovered over a century ago, phages are gaining more recognition lately due to increased awareness. Thus, many phage preparations are being investigated for therapeutic purposes in foods.

Therefore, this project aims to identify lytic phages for E. coli O157, analyse phage morphology, stability and genome content, the representative prevalent serotypes the phages could target and lyse, optimise phage cocktails to broaden lysis coverage and mitigate any resistance effects, and to determine the therapeutic potential of the cocktails in relevant infection models.

Knowledge gained here would direct further development of the phages for the control of E. coli O157 in food packaging. The strategy is timely in the contest of antimicrobial resistance.


Application instructions can be found on the EASTBIO website-

1)     Download and complete the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion survey.

2)     Download and complete the EASTBIO Application Form.

3)     Submit both to SRUC, [Email Address Removed].

A complete application must include the following documents:

  • Completed EASTBIO application form
  • 2 References (to be completed on the EASTBIO Reference Form, also found on the EASTBIO website)
  • Academic Qualifications
  • English Language Qualification (if applicable)

Unfortunately due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications. Please make sure your application is complete by Monday 5th December 2022.

Biological Sciences (4) Food Sciences (15)

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership.
This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend at UKRI standard rate and UK level tuition fees.

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