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Systems analysis of the impact of micro-nano-plastics (MNPs) in the marine environment


   School of Biological Sciences

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  Prof G Hardiman  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) is a global problem. Although the mechanisms of action of EDCs are actively studied, understanding adaptations that have evolved to cope with chronic plastic exposure requires further study. Omics and Big Data approaches provide exciting opportunities to understand the ecotoxicological consequences.  

One Health is an emerging paradigm that recognizes that the health and well-being of humans, animals and ecosystems are interconnected. The long-term persistence of plastics has seen them accumulate in different ecosystems at increasing rates. This is particularly true in the marine environment where micro-nano-plastics are persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic chemicals that biomagnify in food chains with potentially adverse consequences for environmental health and human food security. Another concern is that MNPs may act as vehicles for chemicals introduced during manufacturing. It is unknown whether MNPs contribute to the development of cancer in marine animals and, by extension, in humans. Work to date is based on short term laboratory exposures, often with a single type of plastic and at elevated concentrations compared with what is seen in the environment. The goal of this project will be to exploit sentinel fish species native to Northern Ireland, (and consumed by humans) with a high body burden of micro-nano-plastics and carry out transcriptome (RNA) and epigenetic (miRNA/methylation) experiments on gastro-intestinal and liver tissues. Systems level modelling using the adverse outcomes framework and deep learning will integrate these data with fish phenotypes and health assessments and provide novel insights into the adverse effects of MNPs. 

Start Date: 1 October 2022

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