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Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Environmental Microbiology

University of Stirling

Location: Stirling
Salary: £34,304 to £40,927 p.a.
Hours: Full Time
Contract Type: Fixed-Term/Contract
Placed On: 5th August 2022
Closes: 26th September 2022
Job Ref: FAC01593

The Post

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Associate (PDRA) position to work on the persistence of human pathogens in agricultural soil-crop systems. The successful candidate will be based in Stirling and become part of the wider interdisciplinary team involved with the £3.85m SPACES project, which is led by the University of Stirling, and involves the University of Malawi, University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Most vegetables grown in Africa rely on wastewater as the only available surface water for irrigation, especially in the dry season. Use of wastewater in urban vegetable farms not only lessens the pressure on water resources but also increases water productivity through reuse of water and nutrients. However, wastewater irrigation is often associated with enteric pathogens and microplastic contamination. It has been suggested that plastics, and microplastics, can provide a novel hydrophobic ecological habitat capable of supporting diverse microbial communities. This so-called ‘Plastisphere’ has the potential to act as a significant vector of potentially pathogenic and harmful microorganisms, particularly if the plastic has been in contact with a source of faecal contamination. The human health impact of growing vegetables in urban soils contaminated by plastics, and further irrigating them with wastewater contaminated with faecally associated pathogens and a potential high load of microplastics, is unclear. This postdoctoral position, therefore, aims to test the hypothesis that plastics can facilitate the transfer of enteric diseases such as dysentery, diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera into agricultural soil and even directly onto (and into) crop plants. Specifically, the successful candidate will quantify the potential for microplastic contamination of vegetable crops grown in urban soils, and the risk of transferring enteric human pathogenic bacteria (and/or viruses).

Description of Duties
The successful candidate will undertake an extensive suite of manipulative experiments in Stirling in highly controlled conditions in our labs in the UK. Using V. cholerae, an attenuated strain of S. Typhi and pathogenic strains of E. coli, the candidate will quantify survival dynamics of biofilm formation of these pathogens on experimentally defined plastics using crop species typical of African agricultural systems under environmental conditions relevant to sub-Saharan Africa, e.g., UV irradiance, temperature, desiccation. The successful candidate will also have the option of undertaking at least one field campaign in Africa where they could conduct a range of surveillance and manipulative experiments to characterise microbial colonisation of plastics, and subsequent survival, and delivery to receptors via irrigation water, soil, and crops through agricultural and food production systems.

Essential Criteria

  • PhD in a relevant discipline, such as environmental microbiology, molecular biology, biological sciences, plant physiology/crop science, plant pathology
  • Extensive experience of using microbiological techniques
  • Extensive experience of using standard molecular techniques (e.g., DNA extraction, molecular cloning techniques, PCR, qPCR, RT-PCR)
  • Evidence of experience with advanced molecular techniques

For further information, including a full description of duties, essential criteria and details on how to apply, please see https://www.stir.ac.uk/about/work-at-stirling/list/details/?jobId=3242&jobTitle=Postdoctoral%20Research%20Fellow%20in%20%E2%80%9CEnvironmental%20Microbiology%E2%80%9D

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