Attend the Virtual Global Study Fair | Register Now Attend the Virtual Global Study Fair | Register Now

PhD Studentship: Exploiting viral ecology to combat problem organisms in biological wastewater treatment

   School of Engineering

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

Click here to search for PhD studentship opportunities
  Dr Mathew Brown  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


In nature, viruses drive bacterial abundance, activity, and community composition: they are responsible for up to 100% of bacterial mortality every day, severely affecting ecosystem function. Yet their impact on biological wastewater treatment (BWT), or any engineered system, has largely been ignored, though limited evidence implies a prominent role (eg. here). Yet, the ability of bacteriophage (viruses that infect bacteria) to lyse (kill) their bacterial hosts offers an exciting opportunity, their use as tools to control microbial community dynamics, analogous to phage therapy in infectious disease. Of particular interest, in the context of BWT, is the use of bacteriophage as targeted interventions against problem filamentous foaming and bulking organisms in activated sludge (see here and here). Both foaming and bulking are detrimental to plant productivity and efficiency.

This project will thus assess the use of bacteriophages in such a context, yet by doing so, if successful, provide a proof of principle that could be applied in all open biological systems. Specifically, the project will involve (i) the development of culture-independent methods to identify and isolate viruses of problem organisms in activated sludge systems; (ii) monitoring temporal dynamics of virus-problem host pairs in full-scale systems; and (iii) culturing and incubation experiments to assess the effectiveness of isolated bacteriophage as an intervention against foaming/bulking organisms. This ambitious and exciting project will thus give valuable hands-on experience in culture and culture-independent methods (e.g., flow cytometry, qPCR, 16s and genomic sequencing), scientific experimentation and bioinformatics and statistical analysis.

Number Of Awards


Start Date

October 2022/January 2023 

Award Duration

3.5 years


Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 


Dr Mathew R. Brown, Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellow, Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering, Newcastle University.

Professor Tom P. Curtis, Professor of Environmental Engineering, Environmental Engineering, School of Engineering, Newcastle University

Eligibility Criteria

  • The award is available to UK applicants.
  • You should be passionate about research and have an excellent academic background, 2:1 (or equivalent from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above) in a relevant subject (e.g., Environmental Engineering, Virology, Molecular Microbiology, Environmental Science).

How To Apply

You must apply through the University’s online postgraduate application system. To do this please ‘Create an account.

All relevant fields should be completed, those marked with a red asterisk must be completed. The following information will help to process your application. You will need to:

·        insert the programme code 8040F in the programme of study section

·        select ‘PhD Civil Engineering (full time) - Civil Engineering (Environmental) as the programme of study

·        insert the studentship code ENG091 in the studentship/partnership reference field

·        attach a covering letter and CV. The covering letter must state the title of the studentship, its reference code ENG091 and how your interests and experience relate to the project

·        attach degree transcripts and certificates and, if English is not your first language, a copy of your English language qualifications

You should also send your covering letter and CV by email to Dr Mathew Brown ([Email Address Removed]).

Funding Notes

100% of tuition fees for UK students plus an annual living allowance of £16,062 (subject to minor change).
PhD saved successfully
View saved PhDs