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QUADRAT DTP: Actions of early life endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure on adult fish health using the zebrafish model

Project Description

Landfills and other legacy waste sites in coastal zones are major sources of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), to transitional waters and marine environments. Recent evidence suggest that the impact and up take of these is exacerbated by the massive amount of microplastics that exist, especially in the aquatic environment. To date research on environmental pollutants have used have examined complex mixtures of contaminants in the wild, or when carried out in laboratory setting have focused on pharmacological levels rather than those that might occur in the environment.

The long term outcome of POPs in fish is poorly understood, especially in the context of host health and resilience to pathogen challenges – with increasing pathogens being present due to environmental change.

This project will use zebrafish as a model to examine how early life exposure to POPs known to be associated with microplastic impact both endocrine and immunological development. The development of both the innate and adaptive immune system is central to the capacity of an animal to respond to infective agents. The final outcomes of the PhD will be to assess how early life toxin exposure may perturb immunological development as an adult onset disease. This research is highly relevant to NERC outputs and coalesces expertise in zebra fish, genomics, bioinformatics and immunology. Transgenic lines of zebrafish with labelled macrophages and neutrophils will enable cellular localisation of immune responses and how these are altered by POP exposure. To explore deeper mechanisms involving genome and chromatin architecture ChIP-seq and ATAC-seq approaches (general known as epigenetics) will reveal activated and inactive regions of the genome.

Training: the student will be based at University of Aberdeen (Prof. Samuel Martin), Scottish Fish Immunology Research Centre, and co supervised with Queens University Belfast, Institute for Global Food Security (Prof. Gary Hardiman), exposures will be carried out in the state of the art zebrafish facility in University of Aberdeen.

The project’s multidisciplinary approach provides an excellent opportunity for training in various aspects of aquatic biology and advanced environmental and risk assessment analysis. Moreover, it provides an exceptional opportunity for research training in both Northern Ireland and Scotland whereby the successful candidate will work collaboratively across disciplines and research cultures to generate new insights that transcend traditional boundaries. The project will combine aspects of marine biology, environmental chemistry, genetics, bioinformatics and systems biology. Consequently, subject-specific training will be offered in each of these areas. This will comprise a mix of appropriate postgraduate level training (e.g. molecular biology, bioinformatics, genetics, biogeochemistry, computer science, environmental change) and ‘hands on’ training in the advanced systems level methods used.


Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select the ‘Visit Website’ to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.


1: Huff M, da Silveira W, Starr Hazard E, Courtney SM, Renaud L, Hardiman G. Systems analysis of the liver transcriptome in adult male zebrafish exposed to the non-ionic surfactant nonylphenol. Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2019 271:1-14.

2: Castro R, Jouneau L, Tacchi L, Macqueen DJ, Alzaid A, Secombes CJ, Martin SA, Boudinot P. Disparate developmental patterns of immune responses to bacterial and viral infections in fish.
Sci Rep. 2015;5:15458.

3: Huff M, da Silveira WA, Carnevali O, Renaud L, Hardiman G. Systems Analysis of the Liver Transcriptome in Adult Male Zebrafish Exposed to the Plasticizer (2-Ethylhexyl) Phthalate (DEHP). Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):2118.

4: Renaud L, Silveira WAD, Hazard ES, Simpson J, Falcinelli S, Chung D, Carnevali O, Hardiman G. The Plasticizer Bisphenol A Perturbs the Hepatic Epigenome: A Systems Level Analysis of the miRNome. Genes (Basel). 2017;8(10). pii:

5: Alzaid A, Castro R, Wang T, Secombes CJ, Boudinot P, Macqueen DJ, Martin SAM. Cross Talk Between Growth and Immunity: Coupling of the IGF Axis to Conserved Cytokine Pathways in Rainbow Trout. Endocrinology. 2016;157(5):1942-55.

How good is research at Aberdeen University in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 89.42

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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