Funded PhD opportunities

Determination of the presence of a dynamic core microbiome in the native oyster Ostrea edulis, and the effects of exposure to temperature and antibiotics on host survival and resilience.

  • Application end date: 11th February 2018
  • Funding Availability: Funded PhD project (EU/UK students only)
  • Department: School of Biological Sciences
  • PhD Supervisor: Joanne Preston, Joy Watts

Project code: BIOL3990218

Project description

Oysters and the biogenic reefs they form provide habitat, food and refuge to a host of other marine species, supporting coastal biodiversity, nursery grounds and underpinning finfish fisheries. Beyond this, oysters also provide a range of ecosystem services including water filtration, carbon sequestration, benthic-pelagic coupling of important biogeochemical cycles, including N, C, Si and P. Over the last 100 years there has been a catastrophic decline in the population of Ostrea edulis across its geographical range, which stretches from Morocco to Norway, including the Mediterranean and Black sea. The drivers for this decline are numerous and complex, although over-exploitation and unsustainable harvesting is a major cause of the current depleted stock. Disease, however has played a major role in the boom and bust cycles of reproduction and recruitment, and continues to be a significant challenge to commercial shellfisheries and successful restoration of O. edulis. There is likely a compounding effect of a severe population bottleneck and wide susceptibility to disease in O. edulis. The protist parasites Bonamia ostreae and Marteilia refringens are lethal to O. edulis and have caused mass mortalities leading to the collapse of the fishery of this species in many areas, which in turn has led to the expansion of the aquaculture of alternative, non-native pacific oyster species, such as Crassostrea gigas across Europe. Many benthic filter feeders have a core microbiome that are beneficial to their host and perform a range of functions that confer ecological and immunological resilience, and overall host health. Beyond the ecological and immunological role that the microbiome, or microbial community plays in oyster health is the impact this has on food security and safety. Oysters are usually sold and consumed as a live product, and therefore understanding the microbial community associated with oysters, is an important element of shellfish harvesting and management. Currently, there is no scientific literature on the microbiome or microbial community associated with O.edulis from temperate coastal areas.

This PhD aims to characterise the microbial community associated with O. edulis using traditional culture and molecular next generation sequencing methods.  Samples taken from a range of coastal regions with differing environmental factors will be analysed, to establish if a core microbiome exists in this species.  The PhD will also explore the role this microbiome plays in conferring resilience to a range of factors using experimental methods.

Supervisor profiles

Dr Joanne Preston

Dr Joy Watts

Admissions criteria

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (depending upon chosen course, minimum second class or equivalent) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements

An understanding of how the environmental resistome interacts with the food chains and its effects on the sustainability of high density aquaculture are critically important


Informal enquiries are encouraged and can be made to Dr Jo Preston at (02392 845799) or Dr Joy Watts at (02392 846211).

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact

How to Apply

You can apply online at You are required to create an account which gives you the flexibility to save the form, log out and return to it at any time convenient to you.

A link to the online application form and comprehensive guidance notes can be found at

When applying, please quote project code: BIOL3990218.

Interview date: TBC

Start date: October 2018.

Funding notes

The fully-funded, full-time three-year studentship provides a stipend that is in line with that offered by Research Councils UK of £14,553 per annum.

The above applies for Home/EU students only.

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