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.

Alumni Day talk online: Fighting the Next Pandemic: Water quality, antimicrobial resistance and global health

David Graham recently provided the 2020 Newcastle University Alumni Day lecture and it is now available online (in case you missed it). The talk called “Fighting the Next Pandemic: Water quality, antimicrobial resistance and global health” is available here or see it below. It addresses links between water quality and the spread of resistant infectious disease – which could potentially lead to the next pandemic. Parallels and lessons between antibiotic resistance and Covid-19 are discussed.

Look for us at the World One Health Congress 2020

We are very pleased to present some of the group’s research in three talks and two posters at the 6th World One Health Congress. If you are registered for WOHC be sure to check them out, and send us your feedback at grahAMR@newcastle.ac.uk.

  • David W Graham – Source tracking and predicting antibiotic resistance exposures along two SE Asian rivers with inconsistent wastewater management
  • Pani Adamou – Contribution of different treatment technologies at reducing total cell and viable cell ARGs from discharged wastewater
  • Marcos Quintela-Baluja – Targeted metagenomics for source attribution of Antimicrobial Resistance in Urban systems
  • Myra Giesen – Knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions towards antibiotics and AMR among slum dwellers and medical practitioners in New Delhi
  • Andrew Zealand – Contrasting resistomes of the guts of infants, and water and wastewater exposures

Also, David is chairing the session Water and wastewater: fate and treatment of AMR – Friday 30 October 12:00 – 14:00 CET, while Marcos is chairing the session Environmental exposures: Water and wastewater – Monday 2 November 20:00 – 22:00 CET.

Amelie is on a POST Fellowship

In September, Amelie started a three-months fellowship in UK Parliament. She is working in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), the Parliament’s in-house source of independent, balanced and accessible analysis of public policy issues related to science and technology. Within this fellowship, Amelie is learning how to write for policy and express complex ideas to a broad audience. At the end, Amelie will publish an impartial briefing for Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords on screen time/use and health in young people. Amelie’s fellowship is sponsored by the Nuffield Foundation.

Pani is now a Senior Scientist at Cignpost Dignostics

More great news about Pani; she’s been hired as a Senior Scientist at Cignpost Dignostics (CD) to screen samples for Sars-CoV-2. CD provides this service to companies where social distancing measures are either impractical or unproductive, helping employers to create a safe working zone through testing. CD test samples on site, either in fixed or mobile lab units, providing accurate results within 2 hours using rapid health diagnostics. They test approximately 200 samples per day. Pani makes sure PCR results are accurate and meet standards, deals with any issues arising during the process, and delivers results on time. This is a great new experience for Pani; we are pleased to report she is happy being involved in a project related to COVID-19 screening in industry.