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Investigating the role of the biofilm in waste water treatment plants as a reservoir for antimicrobial resistance

   School of Health and Life Sciences

About the Project

Ref: SHLS20023 Spencer


By 2050, 10 million premature deaths could occur annually as the result of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). An important route of AMR into the environment is via the sewerage network where key control points are the wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). A study at GCU has shown that antibiotics (erythromycin, clarithromycin and amoxicillin), multidrug resistant E. coli and ESBL producers were frequently detected in water throughout the entire WWTP.

The primary treatment of wastewater is via biological degradation occurring in multi-species biofilms within WWTPs. Biofilms are structurally more tolerant to antimicrobial agents and the bacteria present are continually exposed to these compounds and other AMR divers e.g. heavy metals. Thus, due to continual exposure, the biofilms are potentially creating a reservoir of AMR bacteria which can be released into the environment or potentiate transfer of AMR mechanisms to other species. Preliminary data from the GCU study indicated that multidrug resistant E. coli and ESBL producers occur in WWTP biofilms are at a greater level than in the water phase. This PhD will build on this initial investigation


This project will investigate the microbiome of the various biofilms used in the WWTP using Next Generation Sequencing Technology and bioinformatics to identify the bacterial composition. The pharmaceutical and heavy metal concentrations of waste water will also be monitored.

Identified bacterial species in the residual biofilms will be exposed to the environmental concentrations of pharmaceuticals to investigate the development of AMR and transfer of genes to known pathogens.



Applicants will normally hold a UK honours degree 2:1 (or equivalent); or a Masters degree in microbiology or related discipline. Experience with bioinformatics is desirable. Equivalent professional qualifications and any appropriate research experience may be considered. A minimum English language level of IELTS score of 6.5 (or equivalent) with no element below 6.0 is required. 

Research group

Applicants should apply for their preferred intake date using the Biological Sciences links via the Application Process page 

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