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NERC GW4+ DTP PhD Studentship: Development of diagnostic tools to measure indicators of disease and antimicrobial resistance via urban water profiling

Project Description

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme, please see

Supervisory team -

Main Supervisor: Prof Barbara Kasprzyk-Hordern, Department of Chemistry, University of Bath
Co-Supervisor: Prof Gideon Wolfaardt, Microbiology Department, Stellenbosch University
CASE Partner: Stellenbosch University

Project background -

In today’s increasingly global and interconnected world, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. The coming decades will bring further profound changes to the size and spatial distribution of the global population with a projected increase to 66% living in urban areas by 2050 and nearly 90% of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa. This unprecedented speed of urbanization constitutes substantial risks to the resilience of cities with public health and welfare being the most critical concern. Urban environments affect public and environmental health in various ways. Air, water and food are more likely to be contaminated with mixtures of chemicals. Cities are also powerful drivers of population mobility, which increase regional and global communicable disease risks. The 21st century has already seen the epidemic of SARS (2003), H1N1 (2009), Ebola (2014) and Zika virus (2015). This highlights global vulnerability to infectious diseases.

In order to increase sustainability of urban environments, there is a need for evidence based early warning system that can rapidly identify public health and environmental risks in urban environments.

This PhD studentship will focus on the development of a diagnostic framework to measure indicators of disease and antimicrobial resistance via urban water fingerprinting of two contrasting catchments: the Avon Catchment in the UK and the Eerste River Catchment in Stellenbosch (South Africa). Urban water fingerprinting postulates that water from urban dwellings reflects the health status of contributing population and surrounding environment as it pools the endo- & exogenous products of that population. Real-time spatiotemporal measurement of these community derived products (biomarkers) allows for rapid evaluation of public and environmental health status, prediction of future crises, and enables mitigation strategies for city’s stressors, even before they manifest themselves with characteristic end-points (e.g. mortality in the event of pandemics). Thus mortality can be reduced and resilience of the surveyed urban system significantly increased.

The project will address above via the three main objectives:
Objective 1. To understand the mechanisms of persistence and transformation of antimicrobial agents in the environment at both nanocosm and macrocosm scale.
Objective 2. To assess the degree to which antimicrobial agents in the environment are associated with the higher prevalence of specific resistant bacterial strains in receiving water, and how their usage can be associated with prevalence of infectious disease at the community level.
Objective 3. To develop a diagnostic framework to measure indicators of disease and antimicrobial resistance (antibiotics and their metabolites, resistance genes and other physicochemical indicators) via urban water fingerprinting

Indicators of disease and antimicrobial resistance (antibiotics and their metabolites, resistance genes and other physicochemical indicators) will be measured with state-of-the-art hyphenated chromatography, mass spectrometry techniques and digital PCR technology

This project will feed into a much larger initiative, a Global Challenges Research Fund ReNEW Project ( ReNEW aims to develop an early warning system for environmental and public health diagnostics via urban water fingerprinting in the city of Stellenbosch in South Africa. The student will benefit from this broader programme, in terms of research context and resources.

Candidates should apply using University of Bath’s online application form selecting PhD programme in Chemistry:

You may apply for more than one project if you wish but you should submit a separate personal statement relevant to each one.

More information on how to apply may be found here:

The anticipated start date is 30 September 2019.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ DTP funding is for 3.5 years and is open to UK and EU applicants who have been resident in the UK for 3 years or more.

A studentship will provide UK/EU tuition fees, a stipend in line with the UKRI rate (£14,777 per annum for 2018-19) and a generous budget for research expenses and training. For further information please visit View Website

How good is research at University of Bath in Chemistry?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 33.10

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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