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PhD in Engineering - Enhanced biofiltration process for the removal of pesticides from drinking water in Brazil

   College of Science and Engineering

Glasgow United Kingdom Environmental Biology Environmental Chemistry Environmental Engineering Pollution

About the Project

Supervisors: Dr Marta Vignola, Prof. Cindy Smith, Dr. Caroline Gauchotte-Linsay, Dr Umer Zeeshan Ijaz

Start September 2022

Project Description

Brazil is the world first consumer of pesticides. Runoff processes, occurring after their application to agricultural soil, actively transport these compounds into water sources and, as many of these are recalcitrant to traditional drinking water treatments (DWTs), they affect the quality and the safety of the drinking water supplied to people. Against a backdrop of water scarcity and deterioration in the quality of water sources, water companies are struggling to produce safe and affordable drinking water. Biological treatments are promising, sustainable alternatives; however, they suffer from uncertainty in performance and their implementation on existing DWT plants is difficult. A growing body of work indicates that the microbial communities that naturally establish on biofilters might develop the ability to degrade pesticides and other micropollutants. However, this ability seems to be site-specific and often insufficient to fully remove the pesticides present in raw waters. Developing an understanding of filter microbial communities and their micropollutant removal abilities is of great interest and could potentially help to improve the performance of new and existing biofilters. Advanced biofiltration and its potential application in low-and middle-income countries (with a focus on Brazil) are the focus of this PhD project.

The aim of this project is to gain knowledge on pesticides degradation through the biofiltration process by: (1) characterising the microbiome of full-scale biofilters (UK and Brazil) and quantifying their biodegradation potential ; (2) examining how ecological and/or environmental and operational parameters influence the microbial diversity within the biofilter microbiome and their biodegradation potential, and (3) enhance pesticides degradation by manipulating the microbial diversity of the biofilter community.

The research methods will include the use of lab-scale bioreactors, molecular biology and microbiology techniques (qPCR, DNA sequencing, Flowcytometry) and the application of ecological models.

Informal enquiries and full applications (CV, letter of motivation and two references) can be sent to Dr Marta Vignola ().

Funding Notes

This project is a collaboration between the University of Glasgow and the Federal University of Minas Gerais. We are seeking a stellar candidate to apply to either or both scholarship schemes (fees and stipend at UKRI rates) i) Carnegie/Caledonian PhD Scholarships (applicant must have an undergraduate degree from a Scottish University) and/or ii) James Watt School of Engineering Doctoral Scholarship Scheme (UK or EU student).
The candidate must have or expected to receive a 1st Class Honours undergraduate, in either environmental science, Civil/Environmental Engineering, Bioprocess/Chemical engineering, environmental microbiology or related biological science.


M. J. Hedegaard et al. (2018) Water Res., 129:105–114; T. L. Zearley and R. S. Summers. (2012). Environ. Sci. Technol., 46 (17):9412–9419; J. Vandermaesen, et al. (2019) Chemosphere, 228:427–436.

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