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Innovative biotechnologies for water purification in developing and developed countries: from bench to market


Project Description

Planet Earth is seemingly awash with water. However, only 0.3% of freshwater is available as surface water. Currently, about 40% of the world’s population live in water stressed areas, which are projected to become 50-65% of the earth surface by 2025. Moreover, up to 50% of freshwaters are contaminated by chemicals and other emerging pollutants, with demonstrated impact on human and environmental health.

Pharmaceuticals and pesticides are abundantly found in waste and surface water. At any time, up to 70 pharmaceuticals and pesticides are detectable (ng to µg) in effluents. Following release in the environment, pharmaceuticals and pesticides are biomagnified over time and bioaccumulated through the food chain, with long-lasting consequences. For example, high concentration of antibiotics in wastewater led to antibiotic resistance. With increasing ageing population, the use and release of antibiotics in the environment is expected to be 67% higher in 2030.

Existing technologies for the elimination of chemicals - ozonation, chlorination and UV treatment - are inefficient, require specialized infrastructures and a constant energy supply.
In low income countries, lack of infrastructures for water sanitation leads to even more severe impact on human and environmental health. Investing in sanitation is not only important to improve livelihood and dignity of less fortunate populations but it is also economically worthwhile. For every US$1 invested to achieve better sanitation in developing countries there is a global return of US$16 through reduced health care costs, increased worker productivity, and decreased mortality.

‘Daphne water solutions’ (DWS) is a biotechnology for the removal of pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other suspended matters from wastewater and surface water. Preliminary analyses conducted in the laboratory, show that DWS performance in removing pharmaceuticals and pesticides commonly found in municipal wastewater is significantly superior to other biological solutions (e.g bacteria and algae). DWS uses the active filter feeder Daphnia, a crustacean common to freshwaters worldwide. It has high potential for solving problems of water sanitation and water quality in both developed and developing countries, because it is amenable for introduction in existing wastewater treatment plants in developed countries and for deployment in decentralized low-income communities.
The objectives (OBJ) of this PhD proposal are:
1) OBJ1 - To measure the fate of pharmaceuticals and pesticides filtered by DWS. It is critical for large scale applications to assess whether the pharmaceuticals and pesticides filtered by DWS are bio-accumulated or metabolized. If they are metabolized, the residual waste of DWS is non-toxic. Conversely, if they are bioaccumulated, the residual waste has to be treated before being released in the environment. To measure the fate of pharmaceuticals and pesticides, a combination of in vivo bioassays and mass spectrometry will be employed.
2) OBJ2 – To understand the molecular mechanisms underpinning pharmaceuticals and pesticides removal by DWS. To provide tailored solutions for DWS, it is vital to understand the mechanisms of detoxification underpinning pharmaceuticals and pesticides metabolization or transformation. To identify these mechanisms, an integrative analysis of metabolic and transcriptional responses in Daphnia to pesticides and pharmaceuticals will be conducted. In addition, the role of the microbiome in detoxification from chemicals will be investigated. Advanced computational tools and biostatistic approaches will be used to identify mechanisms of detoxification.
3) OBJ3 - To demonstrate scalability of DWS. In partnership with end users, scientific discoveries, infrastructure requirements, and personnel needs will be identified to introduce DWS into a workflow of wastewater treatment both in developed and developing countries. It is likely that needs between developing and developed countries are different and different adjustments/scientific solutions are needed. To measure the scalability of DWS, water quality, pharmaceuticals and pesticides removal will be monitored over time in field applications using high-resolution mass spectrometry.

The candidate is required to have:
1) A first degree in Life Science, Biochemistry or Chemistry
2) Evidence of independent thinking and experience in managing multiple tasks simultaneously
3) Ability to work with own initiative, manage time effectively, progress tasks concurrently and work to deadlines
4) An understanding of science in an experimental setting
5) Prior track record of designing own experiments and biostatistics skills will be considerate an advantage
6) Prior experience in mass spectrometry, molecular and cell biology will be considered an advantage

The candidate is expected to:
1) Develop research activities with assistance of a mentor
2) Collect research data; this may be through a variety of research methods, such as scientific experimentation, literature reviews, and research interviews
3) Generate, analyse and interpret data
4) Disseminate research findings for publications and seminars

Funding Notes

This project is part of the Global Challenges Scholarship.
The award comprises:

Full payment of tuition fees at UK Research Councils UK/EU fee level (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual tax-free doctoral stipend at UK Research Councils UK/EU rates (£15,009 for 2019/20), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Global Challenges scholar by the University;
The tenure of the award can be for up to 3.5 years (42 months).

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