Heavy-metal contamination is a major problem worldwide, with fertilizers, pesticides, dyes, paints, and industrial processes such as metal processing and mining contributing to the problem. In addition, although restrictions have been brought into effect for many contaminants, such as leaded fuels, heavy-metals can persist in the environment for long periods of time. These heavy-metals can be hazardous to human and animal health.
Although remediation of contaminated soils is possible, conventional methods are constrained by both technical and economic costs. The use of bacteria in bioremediation to decontaminate soils, aquifers and sludges offers an attractive, more economical alternative. Some bacteria can decontaminate heavy metals by reducing their bioavailability, for example by changing metal solubility, or by precipitating the metals as mineral complexes. Another use of bacteria can be as biosensors that are able to measure and report on toxic concentrations of metals in the environment. This could, for example, be based on exploiting metal-induced changes in gene expression. Importantly, to allow the use of bacteria as either detoxifiers or biosensors of metals, we must find species that are themselves resistant against heavy metals, allowing them to thrive in contaminated environments. The large diversity of bacteria in soil offers a valuable reservoir for potential resistance mechanisms, and the natural isolates capable of growing in heavily contaminated soils can be exploited for bioremediation.
This PhD project will tackle this highly relevant challenge through four distinct objectives:
1. Isolation of novel environmental bacteria capable of growing in heavy-metal contaminated soils
2. Identification of heavy-metal resistance mechanisms using:
a. Mutagenesis/recombinant expression to identify novel mechanisms
b. Sequenced-based searches to identify known resistance mechanisms
c. Genomic comparisons of resistance mechanisms from existing genome data
3. Understanding the regulation of these mechanisms in an environmental context
4. Implementing this knowledge to develop novel biosensors and improve existing bioremediation strategies
This is a fully-funded PhD studentship that will take place within the Gebhard lab at the University of Bath, a vibrant and well-funded research and training environment.
As the successful candidate, you will have an undergraduate degree in microbiology, biochemistry or a closely-related discipline. This project will provide interdisciplinary training in a combination of genomics, molecular biology, and environmental microbiology approaches, and there is clear scope for development for commercial application.
Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be directed to Dr Susanne Gebhard, [email protected]
Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form: https://samis.bath.ac.uk/urd/sits.urd/run/siw_ipp_lgn.login?process=siw_ipp_app&code1=RDUBB-FP02&code2=0013
Please ensure that you quote the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section.
More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here: http://www.bath.ac.uk/guides/how-to-apply-for-doctoral-study/
This studentship should start on 1 April 2019, or as soon as possible.