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Microplastics as a vector of disease to aquaculture species, Biosciences– PhD (Funded)

Project Description

Applications are invited for a 3.5-year fully funded, AXA Ocean Risk Scholarship, PhD studentship at the University of Exeter to study the potential for microplastics to act as a vector of disease within marine ecosystems. Plastics have become a ubiquitous feature of modern life with global production figures currently in excess of 300 million tonnes per year, the equivalent to the biomass of the entire human population (Plastics Europe 2016). Microscopic plastic litter (<5 mm, ‘microplastic’) is increasing in abundance in the marine environment, originating from the fragmentation of plastic items, and directly from industry and personal-care products. Microplastics are a concern because their small size is within the optimal prey range for many aquatic animals, including species intended for human consumption or occupying critical ecological roles. Microplastic particles have now been found in every part of the ocean from the deep sea to the Polar Regions, and within the guts of over 300 marine taxa worldwide, particularly in filter feeding and benthic species. A new and so far relatively unstudied area of concern regarding the impacts of microplastic pollution is their potential to transport diseases and drive increased disease prevalence in vulnerable marine species.

This exciting project will investigate the potential for microplastics to act as a vector for pathogen delivery to economically shellfish species, namely mussels and oysters. Working in collaboration with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), we will focus on Vibrio spp. as a model pathogen due to its prevalence and relevance for human health. This project will use a combination of laboratory based ecotoxicology and microbiology together with field sampling for plastics in the marine environment and oceanographic modelling to determine the role that microplastics play in disease transport and infection. Experiments will be run at the University of Exeter’s state-of-the-art aquarium facilities and at the Cefas laboratories in Weymouth.

You will be trained and supported by an enthusiastic team of Bioscience researchers who have been at the forefront of global efforts to determine the potential health impacts of microplastic to marine organisms. This studentship will provide you with a highly employable portfolio of research skills in an area of current global importance. Applicants are required to have a good degree in a biological science and a strong interest in the marine environment. For further details contact Dr Ceri Lewis at .

Funding Notes

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £14,777 per year tax-free stipend. Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.

How good is research at University of Exeter in Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology?
Geography and Environmental Studies

FTE Category A staff submitted: 51.80

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

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