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From road to sea: Exploring the biological effects of tyre particles in marine invertebrates.

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £15,609 per annum
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 25th October 2021
Closes: 10th January 2022
Reference: 4293

Tyre wear particles are anthropogenic particulates that stem from the abrasion of synthetic rubber tyres on road surfaces. It is estimated that over 3.4 million tonnes of tyre wear particles are released globally each year. These particles can become airborne or enter highway drainage systems, often resulting in their deposition within the natural marine environment. Tyres contain high concentrations of labile additives, including zinc oxide, antioxidants and plasticizers, that have proven toxic in leachate studies, however the risk posed by tyre particulates themselves is less evident, nor is it clear whether “greener” iterations of tyres may prove any less toxic to aquatic biota.  

In this PhD, you will undertake pioneering ecotoxicological research to explore the mechanisms underpinning tyre particle toxicity, with a view to identifying greener, safer-by-design options for tyres. The planned work aims to improve our predictions of the risks posed by tyre wear particles, with wider relevance for understanding the fundamental ways in which anthropogenic stressors affect organisms. The PhD will address the overarching research question of “What are the physico-chemical drivers of tyre particle toxicity and might alternative tyre compositions prove less toxic?”. Across the project, you will work with the supervisory team to co-develop ecotoxicological studies to evaluate the relative toxicity of different tyre particles, including “greener” variants. Exposure studies will use representative, fully-characterised tyre wear particles, in combination with ecologically important marine invertebrates, such as the pelagic copepod Calanus helgolandicus and the epibenthic mussel Mytilus edulis. 

You will consider the adverse risk of tyreparticles and tyre leachates on a range of biomarkers across the biological hierarchy (e.g. immune response, reproductive endpoints) to elucidate potential modes of action and adverse outcome pathways. Latterly, a targeted, chemical-by-chemical approach can be used to compare the toxicity of “high risk” additives with potential alternatives, paving the way for a lower risk chemical future for the tyre industry. 

This PhD will provide a future research leader with an exciting, dynamic and challenging project in which they will learn advanced scientific skills in experimental design, data management, statistics and translating research into practice. The supervisory team and the GW4+ DTP will provide a holistic training platform, providing excellent interdisciplinary training opportunities in a wide range of employable skills (e.g. statistics, writing, communication), and the student will have full access to the outstanding training opportunities offered through the Exeter Graduate School ‘Effective Researcher Development Programme’. The student will have access to world-class research facilities and the supervisory team are committed to providing the student with a comprehensive training experience, encouraging publication of their work in high-quality journals and research dissemination via international conferences and outreach activities. 

Candidate Requirements: 

The project would suit a candidate with a First or Upper Second-class honours degree in biosciences, chemistry or environmental science. We seek an enthusiastic, dynamic and engaged candidate with experience and a passion for undertaking high quality laboratory studies, ideally with experience in ecotoxicological research. 

Project Partners: 

The student will be primarily based at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), which hosts exceptional controlled-temperature mesocosms, microscopy suites and an ultraclean microplastic research laboratory, and access to a unique range of research vessels and interdisciplinary expertise. At the University of Exeter, the student will have access to state-of-the-art aquarium facilities for marine research, ecotoxicology laboratories and bio-imaging suites with facilities for molecular, physiological and behavioural studies.  

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