Skip to main content Skip to navigation

The effect of air pollution on the behaviour of bacteria

Primary Supervisor: Professor Julie Morrissey, Department of Genetics and Genome Biology

Secondary supervisor: Professor Julian Ketley, Professor Peter Andrew, Professor Paul Monks

PhD project title: The effect of air pollution on the behaviour of bacteria

University of Registration: University of Leicester

Project outline:

This project is at the cutting edge of investigations of the increase in infection resulting from airborne pollution.

Air pollution is the world’s largest single environmental health risk, being responsible for an eighth of all global deaths per year (World Health Organisation, 2017).

Our studies showed that exposure to particulate matter (PM) a key component of air pollution alters respiratory tract bacteria colonisation, and induces changes in Streptococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus biofilm formation and importantly altered the tolerance of biofilms to antibiotics (Hussey et al., 2017

Our recent data show that PM alters the biofilms and adherence to human epithelial cells of several other respiratory pathogens and alters bacterial regulatory responses. Additionally, we have shown that exposure to different particle pollutants, such as brake dust, also alters bacterial biofilm formation. However, we do not know how PM causes these responses.

Therefore, the aim of this project is to further explore how PM affects pathogen colonisation and virulence increasing our understanding of how air pollution causes increased infectious disease.

Objectives are:

  1. Identify the regulatory mechanisms involved in the bacterial adaptive response to PM.
  2. Establish the effect of PM on bacteria-host interaction.

The student will be part of a lively and friendly interdisciplinary research group and will be trained in a wide range of molecular microbiology techniques including transcriptional analysis, tissue culture, chemical analyses, electron and fluorescence microscopy. The student will benefit from the active links and project related meetings with respiratory and infectious disease clinicians.


  1. Hussey et al., 2018. Air pollution alters Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae biofilms, antibiotic tolerance, and colonisation. (2017) Environmental Microbiology 19:1868-1880.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Understanding the Rules of Life: Microbiology

    Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

    • Microbiological techniques

    • RNA and DNA analysis

    • Bioinformatics

    • Metalloproteomics

    • Tissue culture

    • Electron and fluorescence microscopy

    • Chemical analysis

    Contact: Professor Julie Morrissey, University of Leicester