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The survival, persistence and ecology of microbial pathogens on the surfaces of environmental plastic pollution

School of Biological & Environmental Sciences

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Prof R Quilliam No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

We are seeking a highly motivated individual to carry out PhD research in the fields of environmental microbiology and human health. The successful candidate will be based at the University of Stirling, supervised by Professor Richard Quilliam with Dr Sabine Matallana-Surget and Dr David Oliver. The student will also become fully embedded within the Plastic Vectors Project and the “Environmental Sustainability & Human Health Research Group” at the University of Stirling.

The most abundant form of litter in the environment is plastic, and the negative and detrimental consequences of plastic debris on fish, reptiles, birds and mammals are well documented. However, it has been suggested that plastics can also provide a novel hydrophobic ecological habitat capable of supporting diverse microbial communities. This so-called ‘Plastisphere’ has the potential to act as a significant vector of potentially pathogenic and harmful microorganisms, and because plastic debris can persist in the environment longer than natural substrates, e.g. feathers & wood, it offers an opportunity for the wider dissemination of infectious disease. The role of plastic debris for facilitating the persistence and dispersal of potentially pathogenic microorganisms (e.g. enteric bacteria and viruses) is an emerging and novel area of research, which is of international importance. 

Overarching aim:

The aim of this studentship is to, (i) quantify the survival dynamics of pathogenic bacteria on plastics in freshwater, marine and soil environments, and (ii) determine the potential for plastic debris to disperse potentially pathogenic microorganisms within the environment.

This project combines ecology & microbiology with public health, and provides an opportunity to conduct interdisciplinary research at the interface of Environmental Pathogen Ecology and Waste & Pollution Management. The student will work in a vibrant, collaborative research environment and join an ambitious team that focuses on a number of sustainability and disease-related topics. Supervision and training will be tailored to the individual needs of the student and internationally-transferrable analytical, field-based and project management skills will be a major element of the students' training.

Funding Notes

Only British Citizens can be considered for this position.
The funding for this studentship has already been secured and the successful applicant must be able to start in the Spring/Summer 2021 (or very soon thereafter). The student will be based at the University of Stirling, supervised by Prof Richard Quilliam, and will also benefit from extensive collaboration with colleagues within the wider Plastic Vectors project.
The entry qualification for this PhD studentship is a first class or 2.1 honours degree and/or a relevant postgraduate degree, in an Environmental or Biological Science or Molecular Biology/Biochemistry.


Please email a CV and covering letter with the contact details (including email addresses) of two referees to Prof Richard Quilliam. Your covering letter should clearly set out your suitability and motivation for this PhD with reference to your past experience and achievements.
The deadline for applications is 15th March 2021.
Those candidates who are successfully shortlisted will be required to attend an online interview (by Zoom/Skype/Teams).
University of Stirling ‘Environmental Sustainability and Human Health’ Research Group:

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