How Environmental Contaminants Affect the Reproductive Systems

About this project

The focus of this interdisciplinary project is to identify how emerging environmental contaminants impact human health. Exposure to environmental contaminants can impact upon the earliest stages of embryonic development in ways that may predispose the offspring to key health threats and perhaps increase susceptibility to subsequent environmental exposures. Later life exposures, for example to air pollutants, can have negative impacts on human health, ranging from a decreased quality of life caused by the exacerbation of respiratory illnesses such as asthma to early death resulting from an increased risk of cancer

Working as part of a dedicated team, we will explore, the impact of environmental contaminants on early human development, identifying the key molecular and cellular changes induced following exposures. The implications of the key molecular and cellular changes identified in the evolution of adult diseases of the lungs, female reproductive tract and prostate gland will be investigated. Transgenerational exposure in different countries will be modelled to help understand the long-term impact of environmental contaminants on human health. 

How environmental contaminants affect the reproductive systems

Emerging evidence suggests that high occupational or ambient residential exposure to environmental contaminants affects the reproductive systems of men and women, impacting on embryonic development and increasing aggressive cancer risk. Examples of this human toxicity include exposure to phthalates, neonicotinoids, dioxins, epoxy resin, the plastics agent bisphenol A, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons consumed as part of cooked-meat diets and organophosphates/organochlorines used in agricultural pesticides. The aim of this project is to compare the way in which exposure to pathological mechanisms that link these environmental contaminants can modify epithelial cells of the male and female reproductive systems leading to reproductive dysfunction and predisposition to increased aggressive cancer risk. The student will use novel three-dimensional epithelial cell models developed in Hull and state-of-the-art high-content fluorescent and live-cell microscopy to catalogue the molecular and cellular changes associated with female/male reproductive organs following acute/chronic exposure to known and emerging environmental contaminants. Furthermore, the phenotype of these crucial epithelia will be explored using biochemical, bioanalytical and molecular approaches. The impact of altered epithelial physiology on gametes and early embryos will also be explored. The data generated in this project will inform our understanding about the role of environmental contaminants in changing the physiology of reproductive organs, including the window between fertilisation and blastocyst formation during development when embryos are ‘totipotent’ and the transition of adult glandular epithelia to an aggressive metastatic state.

Recommended reading: Johansson et al 2017 Nature Reviews in Endocrinology 13:400-14; Silva et al 2016 Reviews in Environmental Health 31:311-27; Simintiras et al 2017 Reproduction 153:23-33; Simintiras & Sturmey 2017 Reproductive Toxicology 71:63-70; Rodriguez-Teja et al 2016Journal of Visualised Experiments 115:e54230; Rodriguez-Teja et al 2016Journal of Pathology 235:581-92


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 Health research pages.

If you have any queries, please email Professor Jeanette Rotchell.

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 must have at least a 2.1 undergraduate degree in a relevant scientific area, together with relevant research experience, and should explain why they feel their experience is relevant when preparing their application. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree and/or Masters level qualification. 

How to apply

Applications for scholarship consideration at the University of Hull should be made through the Hull York Medical School postgraduate application system.

Please select PhD in Medical Sciences with a start date of “2018 October, full time” and quote the specific project title you wish to apply for. 

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

Apply now

Application deadline: Friday 13 July 2018


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.