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University of Reading Featured PhD Programmes

Soil microbial communities and biodegradable plastic

School of Applied Sciences

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Dr A Blaud , Prof I Singleton No more applications being accepted Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Plastic pollution is a major problem across the globe, affecting oceans, freshwater, soil and organisms. There is an urgent need to reduce plastic pollution. As an alternative to oil-based plastic, presenting low decomposition rate and high environmental impact, biodegradable polymers are increasingly used. They are made from natural or synthetic polymers, to produce a range of products from agriculture plastic mulch, cups, packaging and many other disposable products. There are a wide range of biodegradable plastic, resulting in different degradation rates, regulated by different variables and involving different microorganisms. Furthermore, it was shown that biodegradable plastic affect directly and indirectly the composition of the soil microbial community (Bandopadhyay et al 2018). However, the understanding of interactions between biodegradable plastic and soil microbial communities remains limited, with studies often using culture dependent methods and in controlled laboratory conditions, away from realistic conditions and assessing a small part of the microbial community (Jeszeova et al 2018).
The overall aim of this project is to assess the effect of biodegradable plastic on soil microbial communities (archaea, bacteria and fungi) and how it is affected by them in natural and home-compost soils. The specific objectives are to i) evaluate the degradation of biodegradable plastic in soil, ii), to characterise the microbial communities on the biodegradable plastic and their role in degrading biodegradable plastic in soil, and iii) to identify the key environmental drivers and microorganisms regulating the degradation of biodegradable plastic.
Field experiment will be used to answers these objectives on various soil and environmental conditions. DNA based methods, such as next generation sequencing and quantitative-PCR will be used to characterise the microbial communities associated with biodegradable plastic. Microscopy will be used to visualise microbial communities, and plastic and soil properties will be assessed using a range of physico-chemical analysis.
The findings of this project have a direct impact on our understanding on how biodegradable plastic affect microbial communities, how to increase degradation of biodegradable plastic in non-industrial conditions, how to shape soil microbiome to increase decomposition, resulting in potential recommendation for any end user of such biodegradable plastic.

Academic qualifications
A first degree (at least a 2.1) ideally in environmental microbiology, microbial ecology, biological sciences, soil biology, molecular biology, with a good fundamental knoweldge of microorganisms and their interaction with the environment.

English Language requirement
IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University’s policy are available online.

Essential attributes:
Experience of fundamental in laboratory skills
Competent in aseptic techniques
Knowledge of environmental microbiology
Good written and oral communication skills
Strong motivation, with evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project
Good time management

Desirable attributes:
Molecular biology, stastistical analysis, R, bioinformatic

Funding Notes

This PhD project is a self-funded studentship. It is open to applicants with their own funding, or those applying to funding sources to cover both your University fees and living expenses.


Bandopadhyay, S., Martin-Closas, L., Pelacho, A.M., DeBruyn, J.M., 2018. Biodegradable Plastic Mulch Films: Impacts on Soil Microbial Communities and Ecosystem Functions. Frontiers in Microbiology 9. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2018.00819
Jeszeová, L., Puškárová, A., Bučková, M., Kraková, L., Grivalský, T., Danko, M., Mosnáčková, K., Chmela, Š., Pangallo, D., 2018. Microbial communities responsible for the degradation of poly(lactic acid)/poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) blend mulches in soil burial respirometric tests. World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology 34, 101. doi:10.1007/s11274-018-2483-y
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