Full time, Fixed term for 30 months
The closing date for applications is midnight on 09 May 2022
Interviews are expected to take place on Monday 16 May 2022
There is an expectation that work will be undertaken in the UK
For the purposes of sponsorship, this is a postdoctoral role under SOC code 2119.
The University of Stirling recognises that a diverse workforce benefits and enriches the work, learning and research experiences of the entire campus and greater community. We are committed to removing barriers and welcome applications from those who would contribute to further diversification of our staff and ensure that equality, diversity and inclusion is woven into the substance of the role. We strongly encourage applications from people from diverse backgrounds including gender, identity, race, age, class, and ethnicity.
Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Fellow position to work within a new inter-disciplinary NERC funded GCRF project, “Sustainable Plastic Attitudes to benefit Communities and their Environments (SPACES)” in the department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Stirling, UK. We are seeking a highly motivated individual specialising in human pathogens in the environment and able to carry out research in the fields of environmental health, soil and agricultural science, and human pathogen ecology. The successful candidate will be based in Stirling and become part of the wider interdisciplinary team involved with this £3.85m project, which involves a consortium 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.
Rural-urban migration in sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most important factors contributing to rapid population growth. Upsurge of urban populations has outpaced sanitation infrastructure and service delivery, causing about 80% of wastewater generated from urban centres to end up in the environment in its untreated form, with less than 5% of city populations having sewerage connections. A rise in urban population has increased the demand for food, and although cereals can be transported from rural areas, perishable crops like vegetables lose their market value during transportation, as refrigeration is scarce. Urban and peri-urban farmers in sub-Saharan Africa commonly produce perishable crops such as leafy vegetables for sale in local markets. Such provision of fresh food is crucial for providing a continual supply of vitamin-rich vegetables to urban communities. However, observational data suggests that urban and peri-urban soils used for growing crops are already heavily contaminated with plastics. Most vegetables are grown in river-valleys where wastewater constitutes 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.
Wastewater irrigation, however, 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.
By quantifying the processes of human pathogen colonisation, dispersal and exposure pathways in agricultural systems, the “SPACES Project” will address key environmental and food security challenges and have far-reaching implications for human health and well-being in sub-Saharan African communities.
Informal enquiries may be made to Prof Richard Quilliam, Biological and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Natural Sciences ([email protected]).
Description of Duties
The appointee for the post “The persistence and transfer of human pathogens associated with plastic pollution in agriculture and food production systems” will undertake at least one field campaign in Africa and 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. This will be complemented by 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 persistence 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 post is based in Stirling, but the successful candidate will be expected to conduct some fieldwork, research, data collection, bioinformatics analysis, project meetings, workshops, and paper writing in Africa at our partner institutes in Malawi and Tanzania.
Key Duties and Responsibilities
The successful applicant will be responsible for:
- Leading fieldwork in Africa to collect surveillance data on colonisation dynamics of human pathogens on plastics in agricultural systems including their survival on the surfaces of crop plants
- Managing field assistants and technical staff
- Attending regular meetings and communication with the research team
- Presenting findings at academic conferences and public engagement events (particularly in Africa)
- Using traditional microbiological approaches to quantify colonisation of human pathogens on plastics in irrigation water, soil, and crops plants
- Using molecular approaches to determine the diversity and persistence of bacteria attached to plastic particles
- Developing microcosm systems to quantify colonisation dynamics of plastics by human pathogenic bacteria by using qRT-PCR and culture-dependent methods
- Contributing to the intellectual development of the project, including analysing data
- Taking the lead in writing scientific papers and publishing results in high-impact journals
- Helping supervise undergraduate, postgraduate, and PhD students working on related research
- PhD in a relevant discipline, such as environmental microbiology, plant pathology, molecular biology, biological sciences
- 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 (e.g. metagenomics)
- Evidence of the ability to carry out a research project to its completion
- Track record in publishing peer-reviewed papers proportional to the career stage of the applicant
- Evidence of problem-solving capacity
- Numerical skills
- Experience in organising and conducting complex research projects
- Evidence of excellent time management including ability to prioritise workload
- Experience of working in Africa or in another LMIC context
- Experience in bioinformatics
- Knowledge of the behaviour of human pathogens in the environment
- Experience of working with microbial contaminants (Hazard group 2)
- Knowledge of risk assessment approaches
- Skills in statistical analysis
- Experience in field work, and sample collection from urban environments
- Driving licence
Skills & Attributes
- Inventive and creative
- Able to communicate well both orally and in written form
- Work collaboratively in a team
- Able to conduct repetitive tasks precisely and carefully
Behaviours and Competencies
The role holder will be required to evidence that they can meet the qualities associated with the following behavioural competencies, as detailed within the AUA Competency Framework.
- Managing self and personal skills
Being aware of your own behaviour and mindful of how it impacts on others, enhancing personal skills to adapt professional practice accordingly.
- Delivering excellent service
Providing the best quality service to external and internal clients. Building genuine and open long-term relationships in order to drive up service standards.
- Finding solutions
Taking a holistic view and working enthusiastically to analyse problems and to develop workable solutions. Identifying opportunities for innovation.
- Embracing change
Being open to and engaging with new ideas and ways of working. Adjusting to unfamiliar situations, shifting demands and changing roles.
- Using resources effectively
Identifying and making the most productive use of resources including people, time, information, networks and budgets.
- Engaging with the wider context
Enhancing your contribution to the organisation through an understanding of the bigger picture and showing commitment to organisational values.
- Developing self and others
Showing commitment to own ongoing professional development. Supporting and encouraging others to develop their professional knowledge, skills and behaviours to enable them to reach their full potential.
- Working together
Working collaboratively with others in order to achieve objectives. Recognising and valuing the different contributions people bring to this process.
- Achieving Results
Consistently meeting agreed objectives and success criteria. Taking personal responsibility for getting things done.
The University of Stirling offers great benefits such as generous annual leave and membership of the Universities Superannuation Scheme with employer contributions of 16%. Additionally, staff can benefit from a reduced membership rate at the University’s excellent Sport Centre facilities and the option of childcare vouchers through a salary sacrifice scheme.
Equality and diversity are central to our activities at the University of Stirling. We believe everyone should be treated with respect and we deal with people as equals. We promote equality and celebrate diversity through a variety of initiatives. The University has been awarded the Athena SWAN Bronze award, the national charter for women in science, which recognises and promotes good practice in advancing women’s careers in STEMM academia (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine). In addition, Biological & Environmental Sciences holds a departmental Athena Swan bronze award. Further details can be found at: http://www.stir.ac.uk/equalityanddiversity/athenaswan/
An applicant guide can be found at the following address, we recommend you read this before making your application: http://www.stir.ac.uk/media/pdf/applicant-guide_v2.pdf