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GW4 FRESH CDT PhD Studentship: Assessing the microbial contamination of freshwater systems by wastewater treatment plants using phage microbial source tracking

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, December 16, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Centre for Doctoral Training in Freshwater Biosciences and Sustainability (GW4 FRESH CDT) which is offering up to 14 studentships to start in September 2020.

GW4 FRESH is a consortium of the UK’s top research intensive universities: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter and research organisations, British Geological Society and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

This project will be based at the University of Bath.


Dr Ana Lanham, University of Bath, Department of Chemical Engineering (lead supervisor)
Dr Brian Jones, University of Bath, Department of Biology & Biochemistry
Dr Reza Ahmadian, Cardiff University, School of Engineering
Chris Tattersall, Wessex Water


The contamination of freshwater ecosystems with faecal pollution poses a major risk to public health. This pollution can come from a wide-range of different sources such as agricultural run-off, untreated or even treated wastewater. For water utilities, understanding their contribution to the overall microbial load in a receiving water body is one of their main drivers to determine the effectiveness of their assets. Consequently, the development of methods capable of determining the origin of contamination or microbial source tracking (MST) emerged as an important solution to monitor water quality.

Existing MST methods rely on the cultivation of faecal indicator bacteria from water samples, but are slow, and often do not provide a reliable indication of the source of contamination. Therefore, there is a clear need to find alternative markers of pollution that are rapid, sensitive, and discriminatory. Advancements in DNA sequencing technologies now offer high-resolution, culture-independent methods based on analysis of the total genetic content in whole microbial communities (metagenomics). Bacteriophages (phage), i.e. viruses that specifically infect bacteria, represent potentially superior targets for MST due to longer persistence in the environment and greater abundance than host bacteria while generally being harmless.

The overall aim is to develop new MST tools based on phage metagenomics. Our hypothesis is that each wastewater treatment plant contains a unique phage community or fingerprint that can be used to assess the dispersion of treated effluent in the receiving water bodies. The project’s objectives will look at i) identifying and isolating reference phages wastewater treatment works; generating and analysing viral metagenomes based on the portable minION nanopore sequencing technology and; iii) evaluating the virome based MST tools in a real case-study to understand specificity and sensitivity, via sampling campaigns in consultation with Wessex Water.

The project-holder will truly develop interdisciplinary-work across the Department of Chemical Engineering (Dr Ana Lanham) and Biology and Biochemistry (Dr Brian Jones) of the University of Bath and the Department of Civil Engineering of the University of Cardiff (Dr Reza Ahmadian). They will collaborate with other researchers sharing expertise and resources, e.g. from the European project EERES4WATER. They will join an enthusiastic community of PhD students across the FRESH, the WISE and the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) CDTs as well as from the Water Innovation and Research Centre (WIRC). The supervision team is keen to provide the best support and mentoring opportunities, instilling the importance of inter-disciplinary collaboration and facilitating contacts from a wider network of national and international industrial and academic partners.


Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an area appropriate to the skills requirements of the project.

In order to apply, you should apply direct to the CDT using online application form. See http://www.gw4fresh.co.uk/how-to-apply/doctoral-students/.

You do NOT need to apply to the University of Bath at this stage – only those applicants who are successful in obtaining an offer of funding from the CDT will be required to submit an application to study at Bath.


Funding Notes

Studentships cover Home tuition fees, training support grant and stipend (£15,009 p/a, 2019/20 rate) and are open to UK and EU citizens who have been resident in the UK since September 2017. A limited number of studentships are available to EU candidates who do not meet the residency requirement.

How good is research at University of Bath in Aeronautical, Mechanical, Chemical and Manufacturing Engineering?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 61.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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