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SE Walker: Investigation into the effects of artificial sweeteners in antimicrobial resistance of human gut bacteria models

Faculty: Science and Engineering / Health, Medicine and Social Care

Supervisors: Dr Caray A Walker; Dr Havovi Chichger; Dr Edward Purssell

Location: Cambridge

The interview for this project is expected to take place on Thursday 18 April.

Apply online by 3 March 2024

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global health concern that features in the top 10 worldwide public health problems threatening society. A 2016 review on AMR estimates that around 10 million people could die as consequence of AMR by 2050.

There are a range of reasons for these shocking numbers. However, the ability of bacteria to transfer antibiotic resistance genes (via horizontal gene transfer) is the major contributor to this global spread.

Recent research has shown evidence that artificial sweeteners can have an antibiotic-like effect, affecting the human gut microbiota composition and can induce the spread of antibiotic resistance genes.

These compounds are widely present in the human diet and their consumption has increased over the years, thus it is important to have a comprehensive understanding about the effects that they cause in human health, and establish a robust link between artificial sweeteners and the expansion of the gut resistome.

One mechanism that bacteria have to protect themselves from external pressures, e.g. antibiotics, is to produce a biofilm. We have previously shown that artificial sweeteners promote biofilm production, which suggests that these compounds could indeed be linked to increased spread of ARGs.

Therefore, this project focuses on how the growing consumption of artificial sweeteners creates a selective pressure in microbial communities that has an antibiotic-like effect, potentially increasing the amount of ARGs harboured by the human gut microbiota and their spread between commensal and pathogenic bacteria in the human gastrointestinal tract.

The successful candidate will use a range of microbiology research techniques, including transcriptomics studies, to address this gap in the literature and assess the pathogenic changes in model gut bacteria.

Knowledge of transcriptomic analysis is desirable.

If you would like to discuss this research project please contact Caray Walker: [email protected]

Apply online by 3 March 2024

Funding notes

The successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship which covers the tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. For 2023/4 this was £18,622 per year. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship terms and conditions. Please note that the University asserts the right to claim any intellectual property generated by research it funds.

Download the full terms and conditions.