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Robyn Wright


I grew up in England and, after finishing my A-Levels, I took two years out to travel. Qualifying as a surf instructor in South Africa, and subsequent beach cleans around South-East Asia really increased my awareness of the vast scale of marine pollution and, when I returned from travelling, I began a Marine Biology degree at Plymouth University. Throughout my degree I helped to carry out beach cleans with the environmental charity Surfers Against Sewage, and at the beginning of my second year I participated in a project where samples from the Chagos Archipelago (Indian Ocean) were analyzed for microplastic pollution. I graduated from Plymouth University in 2013 with a first class degree in Marine Biology (Hons). My third year dissertation project, supervised by Dr. Theodore Henry, was titled “Acute toxicity of DDT and Cytochrome P450 1A1 (CYP1A1) gene expression analysis in larval zebrafish (Danio rerio)” and aimed to look at the bioavailability of DDT sorbed to microplastics using larval zebrafish as a model organism and differential gene expression analysis to determine toxicity.

In 2013-2014 I worked as a voluntary research assistant at Plymouth Marine Laboratories, with Prof. James Readman and Dr. Eniko Kadar, on the characterization of sub-micron sized plastic fragments and in 2014-2015 I lived, worked and travelled in Australia. I started my PhD in September 2015, on a MIBTP studentship at the University of Warwick, and have since completed training modules in statistics and programming, a three-month mini-project with Dr. Jan Kreft at the University of Birmingham, and a three-month internship (PIPS) at Coventry City Council’s Waste Services department. My mini-project with Dr. Kreft looked at the aging of bacteria in biofilms, using an individual-based model to study growth (iDynoMiCS), and expanded my programming skills to include computational modelling. My PIPS helped me to gain an understanding of how a public body organizes the collection, recycling and disposal of waste, as well as public attitudes and opinions regarding plastic waste and recycling. This involved some outreach work visiting schools to give assemblies about recycling, and changing Coventry residents’ perceptions about the work that the Council does as well as how they can become better at recycling.

PhD Project Overview

Food or just a free ride? Exploring marine microbial community dynamics on natural and synthetic polymers

My PhD is jointly supervised by Dr. Joseph Christie-Oleza (School of Life Sciences) and Prof. Matthew Gibson (Department of Chemistry) and is funded by a MIBTP (BBSRC funded DTP) scholarship. The project is aimed at determining whether microbial communities found colonising plastics are capable of their degradation, and whether they can also degrade plastic additives such as plasticizers.


Erni-Cassola, G., Wright, R.J., Gibson, M.I. and Christie-Oleza, J.A. (2019) Early colonization of weathered polyethylene by distinct bacteria in marine coastal seawater. Microbial Ecology.

Wright, R.J., Gibson, M.I. and Christie-Oleza, J.A. (2019) Understanding microbial community dynamics to improve optimal microbiome selection. Microbiome. 7:85, 1-14.

Readman, J., DeLuna, F., Ebinghaus, R., Guzman, A., Price, A., Readman, E., Sheppard, A., Sleight, V., Sturm, R., Thompson, R., Tonkin, A., Wolschke, H., Wright, R. and Sheppard, C. (2013) Contaminants, Pollution and Potential Anthropogenic Impacts in Chagos/BIOT. Coral Reefs of the World. 4, 283-298.


Microbiology Society Annual Conference 2019, Belfast, UK (Two talks, April 2019)

“Food or a free ride? The ability of a marine microbial community to degrade plastics”

“Bacterial coping mechanisms for aging: using an individual-based model to study aging in biofilms”

Warwick School of Life Sciences Postgraduate Symposium 2019, Warwick, UK (Talk, March 2019)

“Food or a free ride? The ability of a marine microbial community to degrade plastics”

Molecular Microbial Ecology Group 2018, Swansea, UK (Talk, Dec 2018)

“Food or a free ride? The ability of a marine microbial community to degrade plastics”

MICRO2018 Fate and Impact of Microplastics, Lanzarote, Spain (Nov 2018)

“Can a microbial community biodegrade poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET)?”

15th Marine Biological Association Postgraduate Conference 2018, Plymouth, UK (Talk, May 2018)

"Artificial ecosystem selection for marine polymer degradation".

6th International Marine Debris Conference, San Diego, USA (Talk, March 2018).

"Artificial ecosystem selection for marine polymer degradation".

Molecular Microbial Ecology Group, Warwick (Talk, December 2017).

"Artificial ecosystem selection for marine polymer degradation".

Microbiology Society Annual Conference, Edinburgh (Flash talk and Poster, April 2017).

"Aging of bacteria in biofilms, using an individual-based model to study growth".

ISCB Computational and Molecular Biology Symposium, Dublin (Talk, December 2016).

"Aging of bacteria in biofilms, using an individual-based model to study growth".

ERIC and SETAC UK Joint Annual Meeting, Plymouth (Poster, September 2013).

“Acute toxicity of DDT and expression of Cytochrome P450 1A1 (CYP1A1) gene transcripts in larval zebrafish”.

Outreach work

Sponsored cycle to Belfast

Raising money for the Marine Conservation Society by cycling 500 km for Microbiology Society Annual Conference 2019 (Blog post written for the Microbiology Society: Annual conference 2019: the road to Belfast)

Invited panel speaker at University of Birmingham (Mar 2019)

“Plastic: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Pollution Problem”

Commissioned Biological Sciences Review article (April 2019)

Magazine aimed at 16-18-year-old biology students. “Marine bacteria and the plastisphere”

Blog: Mainly Marine (2018-present)

Oceans public science evening (2017)

Open science evening event held at the University of Warwick

Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) ambassador (2016-present)

U3A (University of the Third Age), Plymouth (April 2013).

The University of the Third Age is a movement where retired and semi-retired people come together to learn new things. I co-presented an hour long presentation aimed at increasing awareness of marine microplastics, their sources, and the implications of their long term use.

Science and Technology Showcase at the Marine City Festival, Plymouth (September 2012).

I worked on the marine debris showcase stand, using interactive activities to educate adults and children on what microplastics are and the problems associated with their use.