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BBSRC CASE PhD with AstraZeneca: Predicting the environmental biodegradation and persistence of chemicals

PhD Start date: 1 October 2018

Supervised by: Prof. Gary Bending, University of Warwick and Prof. Jason Snape, Astra Zeneca

Application Deadline: 28 February 2018

Funding: The studentship will cover tuition fees in full at the Home/EU rate and an annual stipend of at least £14,553. In addition, a stipend uplift of £4,000 will also be paid by Astra Zeneca, subject to contract. Eligibility criteria apply - see below.

Project description:

This is a BBSRC CASE studentship.

Following their use by society, synthetic chemicals used as agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and veterinary medicines are released into the environment, where there is the potential for them to exert adverse effects on ecosystems and human health. To assess, manage and mitigate these risks we need to understand the factors which control chemical fate and persistence in the environment. Before chemicals can be approved for use, they must undergo regulatory testing to determine the rate and extent of degradation, and their potential to persist in the environment. The current regulatory studies upon which many of these regulatory studies are no longer fit-for-purpose as they were designed to identify chemicals that undergo rapid degradation and offer little or no ability to screen out highly persistent chemicals. In addition, these studies are conducted under standardised laboratory conditions, are limited in scale, and fail to replicate the dynamic nature and complexity of real world environments.

For most chemicals, biodegradation by microbial communities is the key process which determines environmental persistence. Biodegradation rates are determined by complex interplay between environmental parameters and the abundance and functional characteristics of microbial communities. Microbial communities in environmental compartments such as soil, sediment and water are highly diverse, and extremely variable in space and time. Advances in sequencing methodologies have provided new avenues to characterise microbial communities, with metagenomic and meta-transcriptomic approaches providing opportunities to unravel the nature of microbial communities contributing to chemical degradation, and the specific degradation pathways involved.

Recent studies have suggested that there may be substantial seasonal variation in the potential of microbial communities to degrade chemicals within standardised regulatory tests. Evidence suggests this is linked to variation in microbial community composition driven by factors such as temperature and light. This project will investigate interactions between the chemistry of synthetic compounds, the physico-chemical characteristics of environmental compartments, and temperature for determining biodegradation of chemicals. Special attention will be made to unravelling the microbial mechanisms underlying these interactions using ‘omic approaches to allow the development of predictive tools and assays that can be integrated into chemical library screening, foster the development of a new generation of regulatory studies that can prioritise on chemical persistence, and understand the prevalence of key catabolic genes responsible for biodegradation and the functional redundancy/ resilience that exists within microbial communities commonly used as inocula for these biodegradation assays.

AstraZeneca will provide a £4 K per annum uplift on top of the standard BBSRC stipend, contributions to research costs and for conference attendance and a placement (subject to contract being confirmed).

Key experimental skills involved: Microbiology, molecular biology, bioinformatics, chemical analysis


Martin, T.J., Goodhead, A.K., Acharya,K., Head,I.M., Snape, J.R., Davenport , R.J. (2017) High Throughput Biodegradation-Screening test to prioritize and evaluate chemical biodegradability. Environmental Science & Technology 51, 7236-7244.

Kowalczyk, A., Martin, T.J., Price, O.R., Snape, J.S., van Egmond, R.A., Finnegan, C.J., Schäfer, H., Davenport, R.J., Bending, G.D. (2015) Refinement of biodegradation test methodologies and the proposed utility of new microbial ecology techniques. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 111, 9-22.

Kowalczyk, A., Price, O.R., van der Gast, C.J., Finnegan, C.J., van Egmond, R.A., Schäfer, H., Bending, G.D. (2016) Spatial and temporal variability in the potential of river water biofilms to degrade p-nitrophenol. Chemosphere 164, 355-362.

Eligibility rules for Research Council postgraduate funding.

Residence requirements:

To be eligible for a full award (Tuition fees and Stipend) a student must have:

Settled status in the UK, meaning they have no restrictions on how long then can stay and Been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the studentship. This means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences) and Not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals).

To be eligible for a tuition fees only award:

Students from EU countries other than the UK are generally eligible for a fees-only award. To be eligible for a fees-only award, a student must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU, in the same way as UK students must be ordinarily resident in the UK.

Full Conditions of Research Council Training Grants.


  • Make an initial project enquiry by contacting Gary dot bending at warwick dot ac dot uk
  • Complete the online application form - choose PhD in Life Sciences (C1PB) and enter BBSRC CASE - Astra Zeneca studentship in the Finance section.
  • Upload a transcript from your current or previous study and CV.
  • Ask your referees to submit a reference for you before 5th March if possible. Note: when you submit your application, an email will automatically be sent to your referees requesting a reference for you. This email will contain a secure link for your referee to upload a reference for you.