Universal Components of the Molecular Stress Response to Changing Aquatic Environments

About this project

The University of Hull has strong research ties to the marine environment. To strengthen these ties, the “Molecular Stress in Changing Aquatic Environments” research cluster is seeking applications to begin fully funded 3-year PhD studies in Fall 2018. Our research cluster aims to deconstruct the cause-and effect network between aquatic environmental change (climate change, human-induced pollution) and organismal stress response at the molecular level, and to utilize this information to generate tools and strategies for mitigating the ecosystem effects of global change. We take a systems approach, collaboratively bridging a variety of disciplines (ecology & evolution, toxicology, genomics, proteomics, analytical and computational chemistry, and computational biology) to achieve these goals. Some of our research at Hull has been prominently featured in a recent research outlook in the October 2017 issue of Nature.

We are seeking three PhD students to work in a combination of field, research institute / industrial (aquaculture), and lab settings, and across a range of aquatic vertebrate and invertebrate species. They will develop expertise through in-house access to biotechnology infrastructure (Genome sequencing, HPLC Mass Spec), and the largest supercomputer in the North of England (VIPER). Students will be advised by a team of academics with vibrant research programs, and work closely with collaboration partners at CCmar in Faro, Portugal; Cromarty Mussel farms, in Cromarty Firth, Scotland; the East China Fisheries Research Institute, Shanghai, China; and the British Antarctic Survey.

Our strong links with industry partners will ensure that the work will have immediately applicable outcomes and students gain industry-relevant skills and contacts. Students will also be provided with the skills and expertise necessary to succeed in policy making and academia.

Universal components of the molecular stress response to changing aquatic environments.

“Environmental change” describes a combination of a variety of stressors (changed temperatures, ocean acidification, human pollutants) affecting aquatic species. However, the molecular-level stress responses of organisms to these diverse stimuli are not yet well characterized. This PhD project will investigate common versus species-specific regulatory, epigenetic and proteomic responses to combined short-term environmental and biotic stressors in different aquatic vertebrates, obtained from laboratory experiments on zebrafish and studies at a sea bass aquaculture research institute. Additional collaboration is established with the East China Fisheries Research Institute. Candidate genes and proteins are involved in the oxidative stress response and redox metabolism, as well as in the generation of molecules used in stress communication. Results will be generated using cutting-edge laboratory methods of genomics, epigenetics, and proteomics.

The position is supervised by Dr. Katharina Wollenberg Valero and co-supervised by Dr. Pedro Beltran-Alvarez and Prof. Jeanette Rotchell. Dr. Lesley Morrell will serve as project advisor. It is thematically aligned to the EU-funded “Sullied Sediments” project.


You are strongly advised to contact a potential supervisor and to discuss your research proposal, well before you submit an application. Please refer to the School of Environmental Sciences research pages.

If you have any queries, please email Dr Katharina Wollenberg-Valero.

Next steps


To celebrate the University's research successes, the University of Hull is offering a full-time UK/EU PhD Scholarship or International Fees Bursary.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have or are expected to attain at least a 2.1 undergraduate degree in Biology or a related discipline, together with relevant research experience. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level qualification. As this is an interdisciplinary project, ideal candidates will have a background or demonstrated interest in at least one of the main subject areas - e.g. Genetics, Molecular Biology, and be willing to develop skills in the other areas (Toxicology). 

Prospective students are expected to be good team players, as their independent projects will jointly contribute to cluster research goals. Ability to pursue independent research, excellent writing, and fluency in English is expected. We encourage applications from students whose backgrounds are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields.

How to apply

Applications for scholarship consideration at the University of Hull should be made through the Postgraduate Application system.

On the second page of your application, please select “Graduate Scholarship” as the type of scholarship you are applying for. 

Applicants are strongly encouraged to first identify and contact a potential supervisor.

Apply now

Application deadline: Monday 19 February


Full-time UK/EU PhD Scholarships will include fees at the ‘home/EU' student rate and maintenance (£14,553 in 2017/18) for three years, depending on satisfactory progress.

Full-time International Fee PhD Studentships will include full fees at the International student rate for three years, dependent on satisfactory progress.