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Human biomonitoring to assess links between diet and exposure to food contaminants

   School of Medicine, Medical Sciences & Nutrition

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  Dr S Gratz, Prof D Stewart  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The Rowett Institute has an international reputation for teaching and research in human nutrition and food science. As part of its funding through the Scottish government we are advertising a number of high-profile PhD studentships in nutrition, food science, microbiology and analytical chemistry.

This collaborative PhD project with the James Hutton Institute offers an exciting, interdisciplinary training opportunity in the emerging area of Exposomics: the measure of all the exposures of an individual in a lifetime and how those exposures relate to health. Here we will focus on exposure to food contaminants in humans. Many unavoidable food contaminants in the food system derive from agrochemical residues, environmental pollution or biological sources such as fungi. These toxic contaminants can be found throughout the food chain and understanding the sum of exposures to such chemicals is crucial to improve our understanding of their potential health impact and burden of disease in human populations. To date most assessments of exposures and associated health risks are based on single chemicals such as mycotoxins, pesticide residues or heavy metals. However, the reality of exposure always occurs as mixtures and their assessment is more complex.

Exposomics is a new approach aiming to assess the sum of all exposures within the body and physiological reactions to it in one unified approach. Biological samples such as urine can be used to screen a vast range of chemicals (and their metabolites) using targeted/untargeted analytical approaches including high-resolution MS and NMR. These powerful techniques enable fast screening of a multitude of chemical exposures relating to nutrition, drugs and microbial metabolites.

Hence the current project aims to answer the following key questions:

1.      What is the pattern of exposure to environmental food contaminants in the UK population?

2.      How is exposure linked to specific diets and which dietary constituents drive exposure to multiple contaminants?

This project will utilise urine samples, and associated dietary and lifestyle information, from a cross section of UK adults and children to develop wide-ranging biomonitoring approaches to the complex issue of predicting the sum of exposures and their potential health risks. The project will assess exposures to the main categories of known food contaminants through the exploitation of computational tools, such as metabolic networking, and this should facilitate characterisation of unknown urinary metabolites to identify potential novel risks and associated adverse effects, thereby informing future avenues of research.

 This interdisciplinary project is a collaboration with the James Hutton Institute and spans biological and health sciences and offers great training opportunities in various disciplines such as analytical chemistry, toxicology, human nutrition, statistics, risk analysis and environmental science. The student will also participate in KTE activities encompassing policy, academic, industry and public audiences. Engagement at international conferences, as well as opportunities to contribute to graduate school activities will form part of the training.

Essential background of student:

First degree in chemistry or related subject. Interest and understanding in human nutrition, toxicology or food safety would be beneficial.

Informal enquiries would be welcomed for a discussion, Please contact the lead supervisor, Dr Silvia Gratz ([Email Address Removed]) for more information.


This project will be based within the Rowett Institute, part of the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, at the University of Aberdeen. The Rowett Institute is located on the Foresterhill Health Campus, one of the largest clinical complexes in Europe, which also includes the Institute of Applied Health Sciences, a large teaching hospital and the the Institute of Medical Sciences (IMS)



International applicants are eligible to apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £17,000 per annum)

  • Formal applications can be completed online:
  • You should apply for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Medical Sciences to ensure your application is passed to the correct team
  • Please clearly note the name of the supervisor and exact project title on the application form. If you do not mention the project title and the supervisor on your application it will not be considered for the studentship.
  • Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree (or international equivalent) in chemistry or a related subject.
  • An Interest and understanding in human nutrition, toxicology or food safety would be beneficial.
  • General application enquiries can be made to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

Project funded through the Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) of the Scottish Government.
Funding covers tuition fees at the UK/Home rate, bench fees, and a stipend at the UKRI rate.
This is a four-year project and the expected start date is October 2022.
Full funding is available to UK candidates only. International candidates can apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £17,000 per annum).


1. Gratz SW, Currie V, Duncan G, Jackson D (2020). Multi-mycotoxin exposure assessment in UK children using urinary biomarkers- a pilot survey. J Agri Food Chem 68 (1), 351-357.
2. FSS (2018): Review of priority chemical risks, food production and consumer diets in Scotland.
3. Bocato et al. (2019) An overview of the current progress, challenges, and prospects of human biomonitoring and exposome studies. J Toxicol Environ Health B, 22:5-6, 131-156.
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