PhD calling notice: analysis of aerosol samples with respect to microbial communities in geographically diverse environments

Dstl seeks applications for this 3-year research project starting in October 2014; 1 PhD will be funded in association with this call.


Aerosol microbiomes PhD application form

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The focus of this call for PhD level research, starting in October 2014, is in the area of aerosol microbiomes. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) encourages applications from UK institutions with leading academics, research groups or research centers in this subject area. The deadline for applications is 3 October 2014. Successful applicants will be informed by mid-October 2014. The project will need to start in October 2014.

Context and background

Although aerobiology has been of interest to scientists for centuries, the ecology, diversity, distribution and interactions of atmospheric microorganisms remains poorly understood. This is in part due to the difficulties in analysing low densities of microorganisms present in atmospheric samples, even with sensitive molecular biology techniques. However, it is known that hundreds of thousands of individual microbial cells can exist in a cubic metre of air representing perhaps hundreds of unique taxa. With technological developments underpinning metagenomic approaches to these environments, efforts are now focussed on the application of high-throughput sequencing to aid in the better definition of community structure and changes therein. These are important questions when related to the desire to monitor biological aerosols for the presence of pathogenic microorganisms.

Proposals are invited which explore innovative approaches to achieve the following:

  • review of sample analysis processes (from collection to analysis) to ascertain effect on identification of aerosol microbial communities
  • characterisation of microbial communities in existing Dstl aerosol samples (minimum of 750) using amplicon, whole genome sequencing and metagenomic approaches to determine the prevalence of microorganisms within bio-aerosols
  • optimisation of aerosol collection methods addressing location, land use and seasonal variation in order to obtain samples from relevant environments
  • application of bioinformatics analysis to obtain a meaningful understanding of the aerosol microbiome in relevant defence and security environments

A PhD based on this subject matter will deliver valuable information related to the microbial background across a number of geographical areas related to defence and security environments. The chosen institution/s will be required to work closely with Dstl subject matter experts to develop a suitable programme of work and provide regular progress reports. Expertise in high-throughput sequencing, microbiome/metagenomic analysis and aerosol microbiology are essential attributes. In addition, an understanding of defence and security challenges associated with the identification of pathogens in complex environments is desirable.

Further information and the process

Review criteria

In addition to the PhD proposal submitted by the research group/centre, the applicant must provide details of how the group/centre can contribute to leading the thinking on the specific theme(s) proposed and how further engagement can be fostered between the research group/centre and the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

Where possible, Dstl intends to build upon government-funded investment in this field of research. Applicants therefore need to demonstrate how they are leading the thinking in the area and what benefit MOD would obtain through funding research at their particular institution.

Proposals will be reviewed under the following criteria and all applications must provide the necessary information requested in the application form.

Scientific Quality and innovation

Proposals will be reviewed under the following criteria:

  • the novelty and relevance of the proposed work in relation to the context
  • whether the proposed work is ambitious, adventurous, and transformative.
  • the pathway to impact for the proposed research.
  • how complete and realistic the proposed approach is

Academic staff, resources and management

Proposals will be reviewed under the following criteria:

  • whether the Principal Investigator’s/supervisor’s and team’s expertise aligns with the topic of the call
  • the balance of skills in the team
  • the time and commitment proposed
  • if the requirement for government furnished equipment or information (GFE, GFI) is realistic

The centre (research group or research centre)

Proposals will be reviewed under the following criteria:

  • evidence provided of the international standing of the research of the group or centre, including evidence of significant research income and their contribution to the UK and international research landscape
  • the benefit MOD would obtain through funding research at the particular institution
  • the benefits to MOD associated with any wider linkages
Published 9 September 2014