Department of Engineering and Innovation, Walton Hall, Milton

Department of Engineering and Innovation,
Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA
2015 PhD Studentship
Dawn of the Plasticene: Biological breakdown of plastic materials in aquatic environments
Supervisors: Dr Carl Boardman (OU), Dr Karen Olsson-Francis (OU) and Dr Toni Gladding (OU)
Contribute to the understanding of a modern environmental issue by investigating the fate of plastic
materials within marine and estuarine environments
Develop laboratory and field based analytical skills in environmental microbiology and biogeochemistry
A by-product of a lifestyle and economy based around the use of plastic materials (250 million tonnes
produced a year1-2) has been the inadvertent contamination of natural ecosystems. For example, an
estimated 5.25 trillion3 pieces of plastic (260,000 tonnes3) are currently floating in our world’s oceans
creating a physical and chemical threat to fauna and the food web4. In recent years, natural and synthetic
biodegradable polymers have been developed that aim, in part, to reduce environmental residence times
of plastic based products; however the behaviour and biodegradability of these types of materials in
marine and estuarine environments is largely unknown. This studentship aims to address this knowledge
gap by investigating the intricate link between microbial processes and the biodegradability of plastic in a
multitude of different aquatic environments. The specific objectives are:
1. Identify the microbial communities involved in the breakdown of plastics in both simulated and
natural aquatic environments;
2. Understand the role of microorganisms in the breakdown of plastics in these environments;
3. Undertake field trails of plastic degradation in aquatic environments.
This project is multi-disciplinary and would suit an undergraduate or masters student with an interest in
understanding the environmental impact of plastic from a holistic viewpoint. A degree and background in
microbiology/molecular biology is essential for this project, with direct experience in associated analytical
techniques highly advantageous. The student would be based within the Department of Engineering &
Innovation and work closely with academics in the Ecosystems and Sustainability, and Integrated Waste
Systems research groups at The Open University in Milton Keynes.
The Open University has a thriving postgraduate community with the student having access to
postgraduate training programme courses covering: research techniques, scientific methods, information
technology, communication and interpersonal skills, which are tailored to the needs of each student.
If you have any queries about the project or would like to apply please contact the first named supervisor
by email ([email protected]) or writing, enclosing an application form, a CV including the
names of two referees, and a cover letter expressing your motivation and suitability for undertaken
postgraduate research (< 500 words) by midday on 13 March 2014.
Plastic Europe - Association of Plastics Manufacturers. An analysis of European plastic production, demand and waste data for 2011.
Andrady, A.L., Microplastics in the marine environment. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2011. 62(8): p. 1596-1605.
Five Gyres Institute -
Rios, L.M., et al., Quantitation of persistent organic pollutants adsorbed on plastic debris from the Northern Pacific Gyre's "eastern
garbage patch". Journal of Environmental Monitoring, 2010. 12(12): p. 2226-2236.