Academic Year 2023-2024
Institution Queen's University, Belfast


School: School of Biological Sciences

Project: Biodegradable micro and nanoplastics as emerging environmental pollutants

Supervisors: Gary Hardiman, Stuart Piertney & Jaimie Dick

Undergraduate Education: Bachelor of Biology, Anhembi Morumbi University, Brazil

Postgraduate Education: Master’s in Science, Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil

Research: The accumulation of micro-nano-plastics and the effects these have on organisms, food webs, nutrient and energy transfers, ecosystem function, and ultimately ecosystem services are a global concern. The environmental and ecological effects of biodegradable micro and nanoplastics (BMNPs), the adsorption and release of toxic substances, and the role of BMNPs in transporting legacy contaminants remains to be elucidated. In the aquatic environment, not all biodegradable plastics exhibit the same rates of decay and consequently, biodegradation can take an extended time. Many legacy compounds, such as polychlorinated naphthalene (PCN), can interact with BMNP making synergistic effects highly likely.

For this reason, the goal of this QUADRAT PhD is to assess the implications of switching from oil-based plastics to newer biodegradable plastics. The objective is to exploit a sentinel fish species the shanny (Lipophrys pholis) informed by the zebrafish toxicology model to assess the impacts of the two most-produced biodegradable plastics, biobased (PLA – polylactic acid) and non-biobased (PBAT – polybutylene adipate terephthalate) and a legacy contaminant (PCN) that is widespread in in the Irish Sea. This approach is based on pilot studies at QML showing shanny is easy to manipulate, and amenable to exposure experiments with various plastics, both ambient and in the diet. The project will combine aspects of marine biology, environmental chemistry, genetics, bioinformatics, and systems biology. The project’s multidisciplinary approach provides an excellent opportunity for training in various aspects of fish biology, behaviour, ecology, state-of-the-art ‘omics technologies, and advanced environmental and risk assessment analysis.



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