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Award details

From road to sea: Exploring the biological effects of tyre particles in marine invertebrates. NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship for 2022 Entry, PhD in Biosciences Ref: 4293

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Matthew ColePlymouth Marine Laboratory, Marine Ecology & Biodiversity

Additional Supervisors

Prof Tamara GallowayUniversity of Exeter, CLES: Biosciences

Prof Pennie Lindeque - Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Marine Ecology & Biodiversity

Location: Streatham Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.  The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

  • An stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,609 p.a. for 2022/23) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of university tuition fees;
  • A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
  • A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses

Project details

Marine copepods and mussels

Close up of bug

Project Background:

Tyre wear particles are anthropogenic particulates that stem from the abrasion of synthetic rubber tyres on
road surfaces. It is estimated that over 3.4 million tonnes of tyre wear particles are released globally each
year. These particles can become airborne or enter highway drainage systems, often resulting in their
deposition within the natural marine environment. Tyres contain high concentrations of labile additives,
including zinc oxide, antioxidants and plasticizers, that have proven toxic in leachate studies, however the
risk posed by tyre particulates themselves is less evident, nor is it clear whether “greener” iterations of tyres
may prove any less toxic to aquatic biota.

Project Aims and Methods:

In this PhD, you will undertake pioneering ecotoxicological research to explore the mechanisms underpinning
tyre particle toxicity, with a view to identifying greener, safer-by-design options for tyres. The planned work
aims to improve our predictions of the risks posed by tyre wear particles, with wider relevance for
understanding the fundamental ways in which anthropogenic stressors affect organisms. The PhD will
address the overarching research question of “What are the physico-chemical drivers of tyre particle toxicity
and might alternative tyre compositions prove less toxic?”. Across the project, you will work with the
supervisory team to co-develop ecotoxicological studies to evaluate the relative toxicity of different tyre
particles, including “greener” variants. Exposure studies will use representative, fully-characterised tyre wear
particles, in combination with ecologically important marine invertebrates, such as the pelagic copepod
Calanus helgolandicus and the epibenthic mussel Mytilus edulis.

You will consider the adverse risk of tyreparticles and tyre leachates on a range of biomarkers across the biological hierarchy (e.g. immune response, reproductive endpoints) to elucidate potential modes of action and adverse outcome pathways. Latterly, a targeted, chemical-by-chemical approach can be used to compare the toxicity of “high risk” additives with potential alternatives, paving the way for a lower risk chemical future for the tyre industry.

Candidate Requirements:

The project would suit an exemplary candidate with a First or Upper Second class honours degree in
biosciences, chemistry or environmental science. We seek an enthusiastic, dynamic and engaged candidate
with experience and a passion for undertaking high quality laboratory studies, ideally with experience in
ecotoxicological research.

Project Partners:

The student will be primarily based at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), which hosts exceptional
controlled-temperature mesocosms, microscopy suites and an ultraclean microplastic research laboratory,
and access to a unique range of research vessels and interdisciplinary expertise. At the University of Exeter,
the student will have access to state-of-the-art aquarium facilities for marine research, ecotoxicology
laboratories and bio-imaging suites with facilities for molecular, physiological and behavioural studies. This
PhD studentship will benefit from a NERC funded project (“Lost at Sea - where are all the tyre particles? TYRELOSS”; 2021-2025) focussed on understanding the sources, transport, fate and risk of tyre particles in natural ecosystems; this project will support the PhD by providing access to fully-characterised tyre particles and the expertise of a highly invested team of academics.


This PhD will provide a future research leader with an exciting, dynamic and challenging project in which they
will learn advanced scientific skills in experimental design, data management, statistics and translating
research into practice. The supervisory team and the GW4+ DTP will provide a holistic training platform,
providing excellent interdisciplinary training opportunities in a wide range of employable skills (e.g. statistics,
writing, communication), and the student will have full access to the outstanding training opportunities
offered through the Exeter Graduate School ‘Effective Researcher Development Programme’. The student
will have access to world-class research facilities and the supervisory team are committed to providing the
student with a comprehensive training experience, encouraging publication of their work in high-quality
journals and research dissemination via international conferences and outreach activities.

Background reading and references

Baensch-Baltruschat et al. (2020). Tyre and road wear particles (TRWP) - A review of generation, properties,
emissions, human health risk, ecotoxicity, and fate in the environment. Science of The Total Environment
733: 137823.
Halle et al. (2021). Tire wear particle and leachate exposures from a pristine and road-worn tire to Hyalella
azteca: Comparison of chemical content and biological effects. Aquatic Toxicology 232: 105769.

Useful Links:

Prospective applicants:

For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via

button linking to an application portal. Please note that applications received via other routes including a
standard programme application route will not be considered for the studentship funding. 


NERC GW4+ DTP studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss and all other non-UK nationals.  For further details please see the NERC GW4+ website.

Those not meeting the nationality and residency requirements to be treated as a ‘home’ student may apply for a limited number of full studentships for international students. Although international students are usually charged a higher tuition fee rate than ‘home’ students, those international students offered a NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership full studentship starting in 2022 will only be charged the ‘home’ tuition fee rate (which will be covered by the studentship). 

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. More information on this is available from the universities you are applying to (contact details are provided in the project description that you are interested in.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.


Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK.   Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree.  Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the  project


How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

  • CV
  • Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English, please see the entry requirements for details.
  • Two references

Reference information
You will be asked to submit two references as part of the application process.  If you are not able to upload  your reference documents with your application please ensure you provide details of your referees.  If you provide contact details of referees only, we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the, 7 days prior to the interview dates. Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

All application documents must be submitted in English. Certified translated copies of academic qualifications must also be provided.

The closing date for applications is 1600 hours GMT Friday 10 January 2022. Interviews will be held between 28 February and 4 March 2022.  For more information about the NERC GW4+ DPT please visit

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email  Project-specific queries should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Data Sharing
During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  • the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  • administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.


Application deadline:10th January 2022
Value:£15,609 per annum for 2022-23
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Enquiries