Metaldehyde Microbes - harnessing microbial power to remove pesticides from water (REID_UENV18EE)

University of East Anglia
October 13 2017
Position Type
Full Time
Organization Type


The widespread use of pesticides to control pests which would otherwise reduce crop yields, has contributed to greatly increase global agricultural productivity since the mid-20th century. However, the harmful environmental impacts of applying pesticides across large areas of the planet's surface, particularly on the aquatic environment, are emerging as a significant sustainability challenge.

Metaldehyde, a pesticide used to control slugs, is the most commonly encountered pesticide at concentrations that exceed limits prescribed by EU drinking water standards. There are three reasons for this: 1) its prevalence of use across Europe, 2) its high environmental mobility, and 3) as a consequence of 1 & 2, its propensity to quickly migrate to surrounding aquatic environments and then onwards into drinking water supplies. Water companies in the UK spent billions of pounds treating pesticide-contaminated water supplies. These costs might be reduced, and pesticide removal improved, if biological approaches can be found to remove metaldehyde from water. Currently, however, very little is known about the microbial populations that act upon metaldehyde and underpin its biodegradation.

The project

In collaboration with Anglian Water, this project aims to understand the microbial populations and key species responsible for metaldehyde biodegradation and under what conditions metaldehyde is optimally degraded.

The project has three linked elements:

  1. Application of molecular ecology tools to profile and quantify microbial communities and key species with the capacity to degrade metaldehyde;

  2. Application of chromatography and 14C-radiotracers to quantify metaldehyde degradation, and

  3. Development of new microbiological treatment technologies to remove metaldehyde from water.

Thus, this research seeks to better understand the metaldehyde biodegradation process and to harness this knowledge to develop cutting edge innovative water treatment technologies of relevance to the UK, EU and potentially globally.

The Team

You will join an active research group with an international reputation in environmental chemistry and environmental microbiology. You will also be part of the newly formed Anglian Water Centre for Water Studies at UEA (

Secondary supervisors: Professor Colin Murrell (UEA), Dr Lucinda Gilfoyle (Anglian Water).

Who should apply?

Applications are encouraged from graduates in microbiology, biochemistry, environmental chemistry, environmental sciences, soil science and agricultural science.


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 12/13 February 2018.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK's eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources.

EnvEast welcomes applicants from quantitative disciplines who may have limited background in environmental sciences. Excellent candidates will be considered for an award of an additional 3-month stipend to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

For further information, please visit

This job comes from a partnership with Science Magazine and Euraxess

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