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The effect of air pollution on the interaction between bacteria and bacteriophage

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Air pollution is the world’s largest single environmental health risk, being responsible for an eighth of all global deaths per year (World Health Organisation, 2017). High levels of atmospheric particulate matter (PM) cause increased respiratory and infectious diseases, including pneumonia. How PM effects bacterial behaviour, however, is not well understood which is worrying considering the role of bacteria in infectious and respiratory diseases.

Our ground breaking studies, which received worldwide media attention, showed that exposure to PM alters the behaviour of respiratory tract bacteria (Hussey et al., 2017). Our publication showed that PM induces changes in Streptococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus biofilm formation and altered the tolerance of biofilms to antibiotics (Hussey et al., 2017). Importantly PM exposure increased in vivo colonisation of the respiratory tract.

Our recent evidence has shown that PM effects the interaction between bacteria, altering how they form mixed species biofilms and colonise, and even effecting growth. This has important implications for how PM can impact the microbial communities which are essential for health and well-being, with recent evidence showing that air pollution does indeed impact the balance of microbiomes.

An important aspect of microbiomes that are often overlooked are bacteriophages (viruses that specifically infect bacteria). Phages are the most abundant biological entity on the planet, with numbers often 10x higher than their bacterial hosts. Despite their abundance we know virtually nothing about most phages, with only a relatively small being characterised in detail. Of those phages that have been studied we know they can have dramatic effects on their bacterial hosts and the world we live in. These effects range from reducing the amount of CO2 that is fixed in the oceans, that impacts the global carbon budget. To increasing the virulence of their bacterial hosts by the carriage of genes that encode for toxins, that results in disease in humans. eg the causative agent of cholera is carried by a phage that infects Vibrio cholerae.

Given phages are known to have important roles in all other systems where they have been studied, it is highly likely they do in this system.

Our hypothesis is that PM will impact how phage interact with bacteria altering how the bacteria are infected by phage and altering bacterial behaviour. Thus the aim of this project is to determine how PM affects phage interaction with bacteria and answer the following questions.

UK/EU applicants only.

Entry requirements:
Applicants are required to hold/or expect to obtain a UK Bachelor Degree 2:1 or better in a relevant subject.
The University of Leicester English language requirements apply where applicable:

How to apply:
Please refer carefully to the application guidance and apply using the online application link at

Project / Funding Enquiries:
Application enquiries to
Closing date for applications: Sunday 12th January 2020


Hussey et al., 2018. Air pollution alters Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae biofilms, antibiotic tolerance, and colonisation. (2017) Environmental Microbiology 19:1868-1880

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