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

   School of Engineering

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  Dr Mathew Brown, Prof T Curtis  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

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) has largely been ignored, though limited evidence implies a prominent role (e.g., here). Yet, the ability of viruses (bacteriophage) 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 BWT is the use of bacteriophage as targeted interventions against problem filamentous foaming and bulking organisms (see here and here), which are detrimental to plant productivity and efficiency.

This project will thus assess the use of bacteriophages in such a context, providing a proof of principle that could be applied in all open biological systems. Specifically, the project will involve (i) the development of culture/culture-independent methods to identify and isolate viruses of problem organisms; (ii) monitoring virus-problem host pairs in full-scale systems; and (iii) experiments to assess the effectiveness of isolated bacteriophage as interventions against foaming/bulking organisms. This ambitious 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

18th September 2023

Award Duration

3.5 years


Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)


Dr Mathew R. Brown Professor Tom P. Curtis,

Eligibility Criteria

2:1 Bachelor honours degree (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). You should be passionate about research and have an excellent academic background.

Home and international applicants (inc. EU) are welcome to apply and if successful will receive a full studentship. Applicants whose first language is not English require an IELTS score of 6.5 overall with a minimum of 5.5 in all sub-skills. 

International applicants may require an ATAS (Academic Technology Approval Scheme) clearance certificate prior to obtaining their visa and to study on this programme. 

How To Apply

You must apply through the University’s Apply to Newcastle Portal 

Once registered select ‘Create a Postgraduate Application’.  

Use ‘Course Search’ to identify your programme of study:  

  • search for the ‘Course Title’ using the programme code: 8040F
  • Research Area: Civil Engineering (Environmental)
  • select 'PhD Civil Engineering (full time) - Civil Engineering (Environmental)' as the programme of study 

You will then need to provide the following information in the ‘Further Questions’ section:  

  • the studentship code ENG106 in the ‘Studentship/Partnership Reference’ field  
  • when prompted for how you are providing your research proposal - select ‘Write Proposal’. You should then type in the title of the research project from this advert. You do not need to upload a research proposal

Contact Details

Dr Mathew R. Brown

Funding Notes

100% fees covered, and a minimum tax-free annual living allowance of £17,668 (2022-23 UKRI rate).
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