Linking environmental pollution and infectious Disease in wastewater: a health priority  - PhD

Glasgow Caledonian University

Glasgow, UK 🇬🇧


Environmental pollutants can interact with pathogens to change how people and wildlife respond to infectious disease. Contaminants in the environment can influence immune responses in individuals, the virulence of pathogens and resistance to antibiotics. An important route of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) into the environment is via the sewerage network where key control points are the wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). A previous study at GCU has shown that antibiotics (erythromycin, clarithromycin and amoxicillin), multidrug resistant E. coli and ESBL producers were frequently detected in water throughout the entire WWTP.

 The primary treatment of wastewater is via biological degradation occurring in multi-species biofilms within WWTPs. Biofilms are structurally more tolerant to antimicrobial agents and the bacteria and viruses present are continually exposed to these compounds and other AMR drivers including heavy metals. Thus, due to continual exposure, the biofilms are potentially creating a reservoir of AMR bacteria and pathogenic viruses which can be released into the environment or potentiate transfer of AMR mechanisms to other bacterial species.  

 Viral pathogens have been identified previously in WWTP albeit the studies are few. A recent workshop entitled “Viruses in the Built Environment (VIBE)” identified gaps in the knowledge indicating the need to establish a priority to understand which viruses are present, their sources and interactions with bacteria. The second priority is to understand the relationship between viruses and potential transmission in the built environment. Infections caused by bacteria and viruses are still one of the greatest threats to the human population even with the great advances in the prevention and treatment of these diseases.

The aim of this work is to determine the bacterial and viral composition of the various biofilms used in WWTP and determine if this composition is influenced by the pharmaceutical and heavy metal contamination in wastewater. This will be achieved by addressing these research objectives:

 To determine the bacterial and viral composition of biofilms used in wastewater treatment plants including trickling filters and activated sludge

 To identify the levels of pharmaceutical and heavy metal contamination in biofilms in WWTP

 To determine if levels of contamination influence the composition of biofilms and viral presence

 To determine if biofilms are a reservoir of AMR and viruses and a contributor of release of the organisms to the environment

How to Apply

This project is available as a 3 years full-time PhD study programme with expected start date of 1 October 2023.

Candidates are encouraged to contact the research supervisors for the project before applying.

 Please note that emails to the supervisory team or enquires submitted via this project advert do not constitute formal applications; applicants should apply using the Application Process page, choosing Biological sciences and October 2023 Start.

Applicants shortlisted for the PhD project will be contacted for an interview within six weeks from the closing date. 

 Please send general enquires regarding your application to:

Funding Notes

The GCU studentship is worth at least £22,548 per year for three years. The studentship covers payment of tuition fees (£4,880 for Home/RUK students or £16,800 for EU/International students) plus an annual stipend of £17,668 for Home/RUK students or an annual scholarship of £6,548 for EU/International students.
EU/International candidates of outstanding calibre may be awarded a studentship of £34,468 per year for three years. The International Enhanced Scholarship covers payment of tuition fees (£16,800) plus an annual stipend of £17,668.
For further details please see our Fees and Funding and Research Scholarships and Studentships webpages.





IHE Delft MSc in Water and Sustainable Development