PhD: Novel biosensors for the detection of the emerging pathogens in water

Ulster University

Belfast, UK 🇬🇧


​Emerging pathogens in water and air are becoming the new  Grand Challenges of our society, they include neglected pathogens like parasites, bacteria with antimicrobial resistance, and new viruses like Covid. These pathogens cause extremely high economic and human losses annually worldwide and have been recognised by the World Health Organisation as a high concern. The control of the water quality and water treatment methods against these pathogens is key in order to guarantee water safety and quality, and to prevent waterborne outbreaks with millions of deaths and a huge detriment on economy.

The objective of this PhD project is to develop a novel biosensor for the early and fast detection of a parasite (Cryptosporidium oocysts) in water. The current protocols approved by the USEPA and the UK Environment Agency for this are expensive, time-consuming, have limited sensitivity and require laborious work, specific equipment and highly specialised personnel. Therefore, there is a strong need to develop a rapid, reliable, and sensitive method for real-time detection of Cryptosporidium in water. Biosensors, as compact analytical units used for the selective detection of chemical and/or biological components, have been developed for the automatic detection of bacteria in water, with high selectivity, sensitivity and versatility.

The results of this project will have a positive impact on the challenge of water contamination by Cryptosporidium. The development of a biosensor for early detection of Cryptosporidium in water will open a window of opportunities to the wastewater and drinking water business, with possibilities to develop control strategies to prevent parasitic outbreaks. This research will contribute to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6, clean water and sanitation for all. This project will directly contribute to guarantee the quality of water, which is essential not only to health, but also to poverty reduction, food security, peace and human rights. This project is suitable for graduates on Science and Engineering.

Essential criteria

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study.

We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Masters at 65%
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications – peer-reviewed

Funding and eligibility

The University offers the following levels of support:

Department for the Economy (DFE)

The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £18,000 (tbc) per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance).

This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

  • Candidates with pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, who also satisfy a three year residency requirement in the UK prior to the start of the course for which a Studentship is held MAY receive a Studentship covering fees and maintenance.
  • Republic of Ireland (ROI) nationals who satisfy three years’ residency in the UK prior to the start of the course MAY receive a Studentship covering fees and maintenance (ROI nationals don’t need to have pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme to qualify).
  • Other non-ROI EU applicants are ‘International’ are not eligible for this source of funding.
  • Applicants who already hold a doctoral degree or who have been registered on a programme of research leading to the award of a doctoral degree on a full-time basis for more than one year (or part-time equivalent) are NOT eligible to apply for an award.

Due consideration should be given to financing your studies. Further information on cost of living

Recommended reading

Angus S.V., Kwon H.J., Yoon J.Y., Field-deployable and near-real-time optical microfluidic biosensors for single- oocyst-level detection of Cryptosporidium parvum from field water samples. J. Environ. Monit., 2012, 14, 3295.

Hassan E.M., Örmeci B., DeRosa M.C., Dixon B.R., Sattar S.A., Iqbal A. A review of Cryptosporidium spp. and their detection in water. Water Sci Technol,. 2021, 83:1-25.

Efstratiou A., Ongerth J.E., Karanis P. Waterborne transmission of protozoan parasites: review of worldwide outbreaks – an update 2011–2016. Water Research, 2017, 114: 14–22.

Kotloff K.L., Platts-Mills J.A., Nasrin D., Roose A., Blackwelder W.C., Levine M.M. Global burden of diarrheal diseases among children in developing countries: incidence, etiology, and insights from new molecular diagnostic techniques. Vaccine, 2017, 35: 6783–6789.

Luka G., Samiei E., Tasnim N., Dalili A., Najjaran H., Hoorfar M. Comprehensive review of conventional and state-of-the-art detection methods of Cryptosporidium. J Hazard Mater, 2022, 421:126714.

Marrazza G. Aptamer Sensors. Biosensors, 2017, 7:5 Modh H., Scheper T., Walter J.G. Aptamer-modified magnetic beads in biosensing. Sensors, 2018, 18:1041.

Savioli L., Smith H., Thompson A., Giardia and Cryptosporidium join the ‘Neglected Diseases Initiative’. Trends Parasitol., 2006, 22:203–208. UK Environment Agency. 2009. Bristol. UK. 132 pp. USEPA. 2012. US Environment Protect Agency. Washington DC. USA. 76 pp.

Vishwakarma A., Lal R., Ramya M., Aptamer-based approaches for the detection of waterborne pathogens. Int Microbiol., 2021,24:125-140.





IHE Delft MSc in Water and Sustainable Development