December 14, 2016

Using environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis to explore aerial pollen communities and identify links to hay fever

Using environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis to explore aerial pollen communities and identify links to hay fever

Bioaerosols consist of biota such as pollen, fungal spores, bacteria and viruses and include plant allergens that negatively affect human health. Almost a quarter of people display allergic reactions to combinations of tree and grass pollen causing symptoms ranging from hay fever to asthma, with associated socio-economic costs to society and health services. Identifying pollen from different species of tree can be achieved using microscopy, but the process is challenging. Nevertheless, since most grass pollens look the same under the microscope, an outstanding challenge is to understand which species of grass contribute to the allergic response.

This studentship has three components. The first aims to use different combinations of molecular genetic tools to enhance the way that we assess aerial tree pollen mixtures using an environmental DNA (eDNA) approach. Secondly, to use aerobiological modelling approaches to compare and contrast the aerial transit of tree and grass pollens and finally, to identify which species of grass pollen are most closely associated with hay fever symptons.

The PhD will form a distinct, but highly complementary component within a larger NERC funded study and provide an opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary team of molecular ecologists, aerobiological modellers and environmental epidemiologists from a range of UK Universities and the UK Met Office. Hosted at the vibrant Molecular Ecology and Fisheries Genetics Laboratory in Bangor ( training will be provided in the main areas of molecular ecology/eDNA, genomics, taxonomy, bioinformatics, modelling; multidisciplinarity skills; science communication and environmental epidemiology.

Field work will occur within the UK, with opportunities for travel/collaborations in Europe and Australia. The successful candidate will become a highly skilled, interdisciplinary graduate working at the interface between molecular ecology and environmental epidemiology with the potential to make substantial advances to our understanding of the interaction between the UK flora and the allergic response.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Environmental or Natural Sciences and applicants with first class degrees and/or high quality Masters qualifications are particularly encouraged to apply.

For enquiries, please consult Dr. Simon Creer in the first instance (;; Twitter @spideycreer) and he will be on hand to assist with any questions related to the project and/or life in the group.