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EASTBIO: Development of tailored microbial consortia for effective wastewater treatment

   School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition

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  Dr P Louis, Dr D Dionisi  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This fully funded, 4-year PhD project is part of a competition funded by the BBSRC EASTBIO Doctoral Training Partnership.

Waste-water treatment includes a biological stage, involving sequential anaerobic/aerobic microbial treatment with bacterial consortia (such as activated sludges) (1). It tends to have a large physical footprint and relatively long residence time, which is undesirable for industrial sites.

This project aims to streamline this process by developing naturally derived microbial degradation consortia specifically tailored to water treatment modules across different sectors. The industrial partner SEM Energy Ltd is developing flagship technologies which convert liquid agricultural wastes into valuable products such as organic fertiliser. The process generates effluents with residual nutrients that can only be efficiently and cheaply removed biologically, but this is a ratelimiting step preventing true efficiency. This interdisciplinary project will first test different natural complex microbial consortia for their degradation efficiency of residual nutrients in different wastewaters from SEM’s operations under anaerobic and aerobic conditions, including molecular analysis of microbial community composition before and after incubation by 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing to establish the major microbes present. We will then build a culture collection of the dominant microbes from the most efficient consortia by isolation and characterisation of pure microbes, complemented by knowledge from the literature. Drawing from the culture collection, bespoke microbial consortia will be created and their degradation potential will be assessed at small laboratory scale. The best performing consortia will be tested in lab-scale sequencing batch reactors operating under conditions typical of full-scale wastewater treatment processes to determine the viability and performance of the selected consortia under realistic process conditions.

The academic supervisory team has extensive experience in microbial ecology, microbial metabolism and allied technologies (2), chemical engineering and biological wastewater treatment (3). The student will receive training in a wide range of techniques in this interdisciplinary project, encompassing microbiology, molecular biology, bioinformatics, and analytical techniques in addition to an extensive generic training programme. They will benefit from being part of the vibrant research environment at the University of Aberdeen. They will also get an insight to company operations by spending three months at the SEM facility optimising and monitoring the scaled-up system with actual industrial effluents and have the opportunity to participate in the design process for the pilot scale prototype.



  • Applicants should hold a minimum of a 2:1 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject. Those with a 2:2 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) may be considered, provided they have (or are expected to achieve) a Distinction or Commendation at master’s level.
  • All students must meet the eligibility criteria as outlined in the UKRI guidance on UK, EU and international candidates. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions, esp. TGC 5.2 & Annex B.



  • Please visit this page for full application information: How to apply | eastbio (eastscotbiodtp.ac.uk)
  • Please send your completed EASTBIO application form, along with academic transcripts to Alison Innes at: [Email Address Removed]
  • Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form. References should be sent to [Email Address Removed]
  • Unfortunately, due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications.
  • CV's submitted directly through a FindAPhD enquiry WILL NOT be considered.

Funding Notes

This fully funded, 4-year PhD project is part of a competition funded by the EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership.
This opportunity is open to UK and International students (The proportion of international students appointed through the EASTBIO DTP is capped at 30% by UKRI BBSRC).
EASTBIO studentships includes a UKRI doctoral stipend (estimated at £17,668 for the 2023/2024 academic year), plus a training grant of £5,000 per annum (year 1-3; £1,500 year 4) and a travel/conference grant of £230 per annum.
EASTBIO does not provide funding to cover visa and associated healthcare surcharges for international students.


1. Machineni L (2019) Water Sci Technol 80: 2013-2026. https://doi.org/10.2166/wst.2020.034.
2. Louis P et al. (2021) Proc Nutr Soc 80: 386-397. https://doi:10.1017/S0029665121003694.
3. Dionisi D et. Al. (2018) Wat Proc Eng 22:138-146. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jwpe.2018.02.002.
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