Project Description

DNA/eDNA barcoding has revolutionised how we catalogue, characterise and monitor biodiversity in natural environments. It has provided a suite of species monitoring tools widely used in applied contexts such as the tracking of disease spread, detecting the presence of novel pathogens or invasive non-native species, and monitoring the occurrence and movement of rare or elusive species.

However, whilst eDNA barcoding is increasingly recognised as an essential part of the toolkit for effective environmental management and stewardship, its adoption by a broad community of practitioners and end-users has been hampered by the requirement for specialist facilities within dedicated laboratories, plus associated expertise in analysis and interpretation to draw robust and meaningful conclusion. What is urgently needed and would deliver a real transformational change for non-specialist practitioners is a democratisation of eDNA technology, with platforms for analysis that are more portable, easier to use, more cost-effective and can generate results in real time that are simple to interpret.

There are several technology platforms currently being used for point-of-care diagnostics in human and veterinary healthcare that could be used to provide more easily accessible eDNA-based analysis for environmental scientists and practitioners. These include the use of lateral flow detection; microfluidic “lab-on-a-chip” platforms; solid phase optical assays; isothermal PCR based assays and next-gen ELISA.

The overarching goal of this PhD studentship is to harness these emerging technologies to reinvent how eDNA analysis is undertaken in an environmental context. This will all be explored through the development of a number of diagnostic assays that could used in conservation biology, biosurveillance for invasive non-native species and wildlife forensics, with specific direction dictated by the interests of the student.

The student will collaborate with molecular ecologists, medical and veterinary scientists, environmental managers and practitioners and a commercial biotechnology partner to provide an interdisciplinary training experience, deliver real applied impact, and develop broad employability skills across research, environmental management and industrial biotech.

The student will join a vibrant, dynamic and supportive research group of like-minded PhD students and research fellows with interests in different aspects of molecular ecology and evolution (see

Essential Candidate Background:

  • The project would suit a creative, pro-active student with a biological sciences or life sciences background and an interest in how molecular markers and DNA can be used in an environmental context. Full training will be provided, but experience of the use of molecular markers (DNA extraction, gel electrophoresis, PCR etc) would be an advantage. The interdisciplinary nature of the project dictates the student needs to have good written and spoken communication skills.


Photo by Sangharsh Lohakare on Unsplash


Stuart Piertney

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Stuart Piertney
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Secondary Supervisor:

Martin Collinson – University of Aberdeen, School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition
Academic profile:


  • biodiversity
  • environmental-management

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