May 23, 2017

Exploring the ecology of airborne pollen biodiversity using environmental DNA analysis and identifying links to hay fever

Misc pollen colorized

In addition to providing benefits to society, biodiversity also brings costs. The aerial biosphere includes ecologically complex mixtures of pollens that negatively affect human health. Almost a quarter of people display allergic reactions to tree and grass pollen, causing symptoms ranging from hay fever to asthma, with associated socio-economic costs. Identifying tree pollens can be achieved using microscopy, but the process is challenging. Nevertheless, since most grass pollens look the same, we need to devise novel ways to identify different species to understand which species of grass contribute to allergies. This studentship has three components. The first aims to use an environmental DNA (eDNA) approach to enhance the way that we assess aerial tree pollen mixtures. Secondly, to use modelling approaches to compare and contrast the aerial transit of tree and grass pollens in relation to biology/ecology and finally, to identify which species of grass pollen are linked with hay fever. The PhD will form a distinct component within a larger NERC funded study “PollerGEN” ( and provide an opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary team of scientists from a range of UK Universities, the UK Met Office and the Industrial CASE Partner, National Botanic Garden of Wales (NBGW – home of the Wales Plant DNA Barcode library). Hosted at the vibrant Molecular Ecology and Fisheries Genetics Laboratory in Bangor ( and NBGW, training will be provided in the main areas of molecular ecology/eDNA/metabarcoding, 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 Biology, Environmental or Natural Sciences and applicants with first class degrees and/or high quality Masters qualifications are particularly encouraged to apply.

If you are interested in applying, we would strongly recommend contacting Prof. Simon Creer in the first instance (;; Twitter @spideycreer) and he will be on hand to assist with any questions related to the project, information on the application process and life in the group.