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The impact of air pollution on respiratory bacteria and antibiotic resistance .

Department of Genetics and Genome Biology

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Dr J Morrissey , Prof J M Ketley No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Environmental pollution is one of the major global challenges currently faced as stated by the World Health Organisation. Exposure to high levels of airborne particulate matter (PM) has led to adverse health effects including chronic and acute respiratory diseases, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). However, the mechanisms by which PM exacerbates COPD are not fully understood.

COPD, is the third largest cause of death globally. COPD is a respiratory disease that involves progressive loss of lung function and is characterised by periodic exacerbations (intermittent flare-ups) which are often driven by acute infections caused by pathogenic bacteria. The microorganisms normally colonising the respiratory tract (the microbiome) also play an important role in exacerbations.

Our ground-breaking data show that exposure to air pollutants alters the colonisation of respiratory pathogens Streptococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus, inducing changes in biofilm formation, structure, and function (Hussey et al., 2017).

Exposure to BC alters the antibiotic resistance of biofilms, increasing the survival of S. pneumoniae against penicillin, the front line treatment of bacterial pneumonia and COPD. This has important implications for the treatment of infectious diseases which are known to be increased in areas with high levels of air pollution.

Additionally, PM exposure causes S. pneumoniae to spread to the lower respiratory tract, a pre-requisite for subsequent infection such as pneumonia, which was not observed in the absence of pollution.

Therefore the aim of this project is to investigate the role of the bacterial pathogens that cause acute infection, and the respiratory tract microbiome in PM-mediated exacerbation of COPD.

The objectives of the project are:
(1) Determine the effect of PM on the bacteria associated with COPD exacerbation particularly Moraxella catarrhalis and Haemophilus influenzae.
(2) Establish how PM impacts the nasopharyngeal microbiome of COPD patients.

This multidisciplinary project will involve cutting edge molecular microbiology and interaction with clinicians and atmospheric chemists.

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Funding Notes

ONLY available for UK and European students.

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

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