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Food safety for all: developing invertebrate models for monitoring phytoplankton toxicity in shellfish

   The School of Biological and Marine Sciences

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  Dr Lucy Turner, Prof John Spicer, Dr Rowena Stern  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP

Applications are invited for a 3.5 years PhD studentship. The studentship will start on 01 October 2023.

 Project Description

Capture fisheries and aquaculture based seafood production is increasing to feed the world’s growing population, particularly in the global south. At the same time harmful algal blooms (HABs) are increasing in prevalence and severity worldwide in response to both climatic and non-climatic drivers (1). These HABs can have devastating impacts as the toxins produced by these algal species are bioaccumulated through the food chain. Eventually they may be ingested by humans, causing gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms, ultimately resulting in disablement and/or death. Consequently, in many developed countries there are rigorous food safety testing procedures in place for the commercial production of shellfish, e.g. bivalves, with chemical methods, such as HPLC-MS, now considered the ‘gold standard’. However, in many developing countries seafood-algal toxin testing is non-existent or tied to whole-animal mouse bioassay methods which have associated inaccuracy and ethical implications.

The aim of this studentship is to develop a reliable and quick marine invertebrate model for seafood-algal toxicity testing (2) that can be adopted for use in less-developed and developing countries, removing the need for expensive, complicated analytical equipment and the increasingly ethically questionable mouse bioassay. Based at the University of Plymouth, and in collaboration with the Marine Biological Association (MBA), and the Food Safety Group at the Weymouth Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) in the UK, the student will receive training in behavioural, ecophysiological, molecular, and analytical techniques. They will be used to correlate and quantify i) the response (3,4,5), and, ii) the intraspecific reproducibility of the response of the invertebrate model chosen to exposure to known concentrations of toxic algae. To further ensure inter- and intraspecific reproducibility, and relevance to developing countries, especially those bordering the Indian Ocean the student will also spend time at Nitte University in Mangaluru, Karnataka, south-west India testing the methodology developed in a local Indian Ocean distributed amphipod species.


  1. Gobler, C.J. (2020) Climate Change and Harmful Algal Blooms: Insights and perspective. Harmful Algae, 91, 101731.
  2. Aylagas, E., et al. (2014) Evaluation of marine phytoplankton toxicity by application of marine invertebrate bioassays. Scientia Marina, 78, 173-183.
  3. Turner, L.M., Havenhand, J.N., Alsterberg, C., Turner, A.D., Girisha, S.K., Rai, A., Venugopal, M.N., Karunasagar, I. & Godhe, A. (2019) Toxic algae silence physiological responses to multiple climate drivers in a tropical marine food chain. Frontiers in Physiology, 10, 373.
  4. Collins, M., Truebano, M. & Spicer, J.I. (2022) Consequences of thermal plasticity for hypoxic performance in coastal amphipods. Marine Environmental Research, 177, 105624.
  5. Calosi, P., Turner, L.M., Hawkins, M., Bertolini, C., Nightingale, G., Truebano, M. & Spicer, J.I. (2013) Multiple Physiological Responses to Multiple Environmental Challenges: An Individual Approach. Integrative and Comparative Biology 53, 660-670.

Person Specification

Applicants should have a first or upper second class honours degree in an appropriate subject and preferably a relevant Masters qualification.  A willingness to travel internationally is essential.

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1 October 2023.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship for 3.5 years, covering fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022-23 rate) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships.

ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and £2,500 for external training, travel and conferences.

ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience. Our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.

For information and full eligibility visit https://www.aries-dtp.ac.uk/


To apply for this position please visit here and select the studentship you would like to apply for. Please clearly state the name of the studentship project code TURNER_P23ARIES that you are applying for on your personal statement.

Please see here for a list of supporting documents to upload with your application.

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Lucy Turner, [Email Address Removed]   

For more information on the admissions process generally, please contact [Email Address Removed].

The closing date for applications is 23:59 (UK Time) 11 January 2023. 

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