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Pharmaceuticals in agriculture - Assessing the impacts of wastewater and irrigation on crop production and soil health

Project Description

Large amounts of pharmaceuticals are used globally for human and animal treatment. These substances are released to agricultural soils directly through animal excreta, via manure or sewage sludge when applied as fertiliser, and by irrigation of wastewater. Their presence in agricultural soils have been shown to affect microbial communities, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in soils, soil function and crop production.

However, this evidence base is largely limited to a small proportion of the pharmaceuticals used in human and veterinary medicine. Moreover, wastewater irrigation may result in chronic pharmaceutical exposure, which is likely to further increase in future due to increased summer droughts.

This project aims to assess the implications of long-term exposure of agricultural soils to a wide range of pharmaceuticals (single and in mixtures) resulting from irrigation with treated wastewater for 1) soil processes including greenhouse gas emissions, the underpinning microbial communities, AMR and soil chemistry, and 2) crop development, yield and quality.

This interdisciplinary project will involve field and lab-based experiments using state-of-the-art techniques and approaches to unravel the effects of the unintended impacts of pharmaceuticals introduced to agricultural soils by irrigation with treated wastewater on soil microbial communities, soil function, AMR and crop yields.

You will be part of an experienced, dynamic and complementary research team at the University of York and the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology (Wallingford), who are at the forefront of research on the fate and effects of pharmaceuticals in ecosystems, AMR, microbial ecology, and greenhouse gas flux and soil function research.

This studentship will provide you with excellent training and guidance in experimental design, field and lab experiments, microbial approaches, greenhouse gas flux measurements, soil and plant analyses, and dissemination of your experimental results during meetings and conferences.

For informal enquiries and further reading materials please email:

For application details:

Funding Notes

This is a NERC ACCE DTP studentship fully funded for 3.5 years in the first instance, and students must complete their PhD in four years. The studentship covers: (i) a tax-free annual stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£15,009 for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. You can extend your funding period for up to 3 months by applying for an industrial placement.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an Upper Second Class Honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any relevant subject that provides the necessary skills, knowledge and experience for the DTP, including environmental, biological, chemical, mathematical, physical and social sciences.

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