Finalist for Newcastle University’s Engagement and Place Awards 2021

Happy to announce our involvement in co-developing the UK National Wastewater-based Epidemiology Surveillance Network has been short-listed in Newcastle University’s Engagement and Place Awards 2021 in the Engaging with Policy and Practice category. We are pleased to share the spotlight with our colleagues in Environmental Engineering for their work on BEWISe (Biological Engineering: Wastewater Innovation at Scale) in the Engaging for Economic Benefit category. The engagement summaries for all finalist are described here.

The winners will be announced Wednesday, 26 May 2021. The online award ceremony hosted by our Vice-Chancellor and President and our Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Engagement and Place Is open to all. You can register here, we hope you can join us.

New Group Member: Rebeca Pallarés Vega

We are very happy to welcome Rebeca Pallarés Vega (Palencia, Spain) who has joined the GrahAM research group as a Research Assistant to study the dynamics of plasmid transfer in Indian rivers on our AMRflows project. Rebeca studied a BSc in Biology at the University of Salamanca (Spain) and then to pursued an MSc in Advances and Research in Microbiology at the University of Granada (Spain). During her MSc, Rebeca did an internship in 2015 at the water research centre, Wetsus, in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. This was when she became acquainted with antimicrobial resistance, and during her nine-month project, she studied resistant genetic profiles of bacteria isolated from hospital wastewater.

After completing her internship, Rebeca was granted a PhD position at TU Delft and Wetsus in collaboration with industrial stakeholders and water authorities. During her PhD, Rebeca focused on evaluating the presence and removal of antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs) in wastewater and biosolids. Her main goal was to identify the role of wastewater system design, operational parameters, and abiotic factors (i.e., rainfall) on ARG removal dynamics. Rebeca also studied different conditions that might influence the spread of ARGs through the conjugal transfer of plasmids using in vitro and in situ experimental set-ups at the University of Copenhagen with the group of Professor Søren Sørensen.

In 2020, Rebeca joined the EU2020 project REPARES on behalf of Wetsus. There, she worked in method standardization and transfer across the consortium partners. We are very happy for Rebeca to join our group because her background fits perfectly into AMRflows, but our other work, such as wastewater-based epidemiology.

Faecal pollution promotes the environmental spread of AMR in Central Thailand

We want to strongly commend the manuscript Environmental antimicrobial resistance is associated with faecal pollution in Central Thailand’s coastal aquaculture region recently released in the Journal of Hazardous Materials. It is from a very interesting project led by Professor David Werner, Newcastle University, which studied the main drivers of environmental AMR spread in Central Thailand using HT-qPCR and MinION NGS. The work was in collaboration with partners at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi in Thailand and the Institute of Urban Environment of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The Graham Group contributed to the analysis and interpretation of AR gene data on the aquaculture ponds and local rivers, which corroborated that polluted rivers were contaminating the ponds, not the other way around. See more about on the clean water research being done by Professor Werner’s team on their blog. Additionally, see the Newcastle University’s press release about the work here.

Upcoming Talk on “AMR in wastewater – determinants and removal”

Prof David W Graham will be giving a public talk on AMR prevalence and monitoring in wastewater systems on 25 March 2021 is part the Wetsus REPARES network, supported by STOWA in the theme source separated sanitation. The Webinar starts at 15:30 (Netherlands) / 14:30 (UK) time and last about 90 minutes. This webinar is called “AMR in wastewater – determinants and removal” has three invited speakers, including David Graham, Dr Maarten Nederlof, and Rebeca Pallares Vega (soon to join our group in Newcastle). Drs Heike Schmitt and Lucia Hernandez will host the webinar. Talks are available online here.

PhD Studentship in Water Infrastructure & Resilience (WIRe) CDT PhD Studentship: The future of wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE)

We are excited to announce the opportunity to join our group as a fully funded 2021 (WIRe) CDT PhD. This studentship is sponsored by EPSRC, Northumbrian Water and Scottish Water, and will be supervised by Professor David Graham (Newcastle) Professor Vanessa Speight (Sheffield), Andrew Moore (Northumbrian Water), & George Ponton (Scottish Water). The work will include a horizon scan of existing and potential WBE applications. Subsequent research will focus on sampling and hydraulic modelling of targeted sewer networks with the aim of piloting a general framework for future WBE. The ideal candidate will have a background in wastewater engineering or related applied science; skills and interest in biological and/or chemical methods; and numerical modelling or related skills.

If you find the topic interesting and meet the eligibility criteria (First or 2:1 Degree, preferably a MSc in relevant subject), then please apply here no later than 22 March 2021. The studentship is based at Newcastle University, with an extended placement at the University of Sheffield and regular involvement with industrial and government partners. WIRe offers technical and transferable skills training; international placements; and a generous training grant for professional development. 

The award starts September 2021 for a duration of four years. It covers all tuition fees and includes annual living expenses of £19,000. Furthermore, it provides additional funding to cover research costs and local, national, and international travel (conferences and exchanges).  

Change is the new normal: some ins and outs & exciting new projects

Working under the pandemic has not been boring. Everyone in the group is working ridiculously hard, some people are leaving and new people are arriving, and we have gained a variety of exciting new projects, which is a remarkable success under such trying conditions. Unfortunately, Rui Xin returned home to China to finish her PhD, while Dr Vincenzo Padricello has joined Eχponent® to perform work closer to his PhD interests. However, Dr Pani Adamou recently returned to the group to work on our expanding wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) and NERC UK-India projects.

Relative to WBE, we were just awarded a research project by the Joint Biosecurity Centre called “Wastewater-based epidemiology for Her Majesty’s Correctional Service,” which will assess the value of WBE as an early warning of health conditions in contained facilities. The novelty with this work is that we are expanding wastewater analysis to include enteric bacterial pathogens, virus beyond SARS-CoV-2, AMR, and microbiomes. The work aims to assess the amenability of other infectious disease markers to WBE approaches. 

We also were recently awarded a new project by the Rising Tide Foundation called “Identifying Best Practice for Empowerment Through Entrepreneurial Freedom: A project for the marginalised in slum areas in Delhi, India.” This is an exciting multidisciplinary project led by Prof Pauline Dixon, studying social and technical approaches to improve the quality of life in several slum types in India. Dr Myra Giesen will move to this project on 1 April 2021 when it starts, and Dr Kelly Jobling will move part-time to the project later in the year when demands from her WBE work declines. 

Beyond the above work, we now have two Civil Engineering MEng students, Savannah Lawrence and Matt Day, performing their dissertation work on WBE data from DEFRA and JBC, while Katie Robins, PhD student, has just taken a part-time internship at DEFRA to work with their Senior Epidemiologist on merging environmental and human health data to enhance in health surveillance. Finally, we were just awarded a WIRe CDT PhD studentship, which will study “The future of wastewater-based epidemiology.” This is sponsored by the EPSRC, Northumbrian Water, and Scottish Water, and David and Dr Vanessa Speight at the University of Sheffield will supervise the studentship. An announcement will be made soon seeking applications. 

Although we are under lockdown, things are terribly busy here. I want to especially flag the heroic work by Marcos Quintela-Baluja and Kelly Jobling who are holding things together under these strange times. 

Source tracking of antimicrobial resistance in emerging countries

Amelie Ott recently gave a webinar for the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) on ‘Source tracking of antimicrobial resistance in emerging countries’ with over 200 stakeholders registered for this event. Amelie talked about environmental antibiotic resistance in low-and-middle-income countries with a special focus on monitoring and modelling antibiotic resistance in South East Asian rivers. Amelie was invited to give this webinar after winning the student competition at the RSPH ‘What is the future of water in public health?’ conference in Sheffield, December 2019.

We are hiring: Research Assistant / Associate in Microbial Genetics within Water Systems

We are looking for a highly motivated person to join our team on a 24-month full- time position funded by our UK-India NERC project “AMRflows: antimicrobials and resistance from manufacturing flows to people”. We are seeking someone with advanced skills and experience in molecular microbial ecology, flow cytometry, and-or bioinformatics and biostatistical analysis, ideally within a water-engineering context. The aim of the post is to develop new ways of quantifying rates and frequencies of horizontal gene transfer related to antibiotic resistance in the environment. The post also may assist our work quantifying SARS-CoV-2 spread in the environment. A full job description and how to apply is available at here. The closing date is 3 January 2021

New ES&T Publication: Impact of redox conditions on antibiotic resistance conjugative gene transfer frequency and plasmid fate in wastewater ecosystems

We are happy to present our new publication in Environmental Science & Technology. This paper is from Mui-Choo (Florence) Jong’s PhD research on antibiotic resistance (AR) gene transfer in low-energy sponge bioreactors. Florence showed sequential redox conditions generally enhanced AR gene removal, but she also observed very different gene transfer frequencies under different conditions. To test this observation, she developed a reporter assay using a green-fluorescent-protein tagged E. coli to track conjugative AR plasmid fate; the survival of the E. coli host cells; and gene exchange activity in aerobic, anoxic and anaerobic bioreactors, both in biofilms and the liquid phase. Overall, her work, reported in ES&T, show that aerobic conditions are better at reducing AR levels and gene transfer in wastewater ecosystems, perhaps due to the reduced host survival and in situ predation. This has major practical implications to wastewater treatment process design.

Microscopy analysis showing (A & C) Phase contrast, and (B & D) epifluorescence images of food vacuoles expressing Gfp fluorescence suggesting pRP4 host cells potentially engulfed by predatory protozoa.