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The effects of air pollution on the behaviour and allergenic potential of fungi

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Fungi are an essential component of the ecosystem, but cause major economic loss through crop damage and infection of domesticated animals and livestock, and affect human health through infections, toxicosis, or allergy. Fungal bioaerosols are ubiquitous, and in the UK fungal spore levels can exceed pollen in outdoor air by 100-1000 fold. Fungal spores also reach very high levels indoors, particularly in damp mouldy properties.

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). There is evidence that air pollution may interact with airborne allergens such as pollens and fungal spores enhancing the risk of sensitisation and making symptoms of asthma and hayfever worse. Most work has focused on pollen aerosols and little is known about the interactions between pollutants and airborne fungal spores, although short-term exposure to gaseous urban air pollution has been shown to increase the allergenicity of the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus (1) and exposure to organic pollutants have been shown to favour the development of pathogenic trade-offs in fungi (2), which may impose serious threats to animals and plant hosts.

Particulate matter (PM) is the principal component of indoor and outdoor air pollution. Recent ground breaking studies from our team, which received worldwide media attention, showed that exposure to PM alters the behaviour of respiratory tract bacteria. This study showed that PM induces changes in bacterial biofilm composition, structure, and function and altered the tolerance of biofilms to antibiotics (3). Many plant, animal and human fungal pathogens grow as biofilms increasing their resistance to fungicides or antifungal drugs.

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


(1) Lang-Yona N, Shuster-Meiseles T, Mazar Y, Yarden O, and Rudich Y. Impact of urban air pollution on the allergenicity of Aspergillus fumigatus conidia: outdoor exposure study supported by laboratory experiments. Science of The Total Environment. 2016; 541:365-71.

(2) Martins C, Varela A, Leclercq CC, Nunez O, Vetrovsky T, Renaut J, Baldrian P, Pereira CS. Specialisation events of fungal metacommunities exposed to a persistant organic pollutant are suggestive of augmented pathogenic potential. Microbiome 2018; 6:208

(3) Hussey SJK, Purves J, Allcock N, Fernandes VE, Monks PS, Ketley JM,Andrew PW and Morrissey JA. Air pollution alters Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae biofilms, antibiotic tolerance and colonisation. Environmental Microbiology 2017; 19:1868-80.

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