New publication: microbial mass movements

Delighted that our perspective in Science has been published.

Zhu Y-G, Gillings M, Simonet P, Stekel DJ, Banwart S and Penuelas J. Microbial mass movements. Science 357: 1099-1100.

My involvement is relatively minor: we have written a much longer piece (which we are looking to publish also) to which I have contributed a fairly substantial section on modelling – and then when Michael Gillings put together this short perspective for Science, he compressed everything I wrote into a single sentence! Maybe it is an improvement ūüôā Anyway, it is a real privelege to have coauthored which such amazing international scientists, and a delight that we have had it published in such a great journal.


For several billion years, microorganisms and the genes they carry have mainly been moved by physical forces such as air and water currents. These forces generated biogeographic patterns for microorganisms that are similar to those of animals and plants (1). In the past 100 years, humans have changed these dynamics by transporting large numbers of cells to new locations through waste disposal, tourism, and global transport and by modifying selection pressures at those locations. As a consequence, we are in the midst of a substantial alteration to microbial biogeography. This has the potential to change ecosystem services and biogeochemistry in unpredictable ways.


Medical Research Foundation funds ¬£2.8M PhD programme in antimicrobial resistance

The Medical Research Foundation has announced a ¬£2.8M PhD programme in antimicrobial resistance. Led by Matthew Avison at Bristol, this will bring 18 fully funded PhD students to support ongoing AMR projects. One of the students will be at Nottingham in association with the EVAL-FARMS project. We will be advertising three projects as part of the programme; these will be led by team members who don’t have any direct resource from the existing EVAL-FARMS funding – and are likely to be in the areas of phage-mediated spread of resistance, use of anaerobic digestion to mitigate resistance, and farm systems economic models to identify factors to best mitigate the impact of agri-AMR on human health.

Nottingham has also posted a Blog on the funding and I reproduce the text below:

New funding for Antimicrobial Resistance research

Research into new ways to tackle antimicrobial resistance has been given a boost as the University of Nottingham is one of the universities set to benefit from a £2.85m investment from the Medical Research Foundation.

New scientists will explore ways to tackle antimicrobial resistance through a new PhD training programme by the Medical Research Foundation, the charitable foundation of the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Fully funded

The first intake of the Antimicrobial Resistance PhD Training Programme will fully fund 18 students for four years, and the University of Nottingham is one of the 16 participating universities across the UK.

Dr Dov Stekel¬†is leading the University of Nottingham programme and will be looking to recruit students later this year ready to start in 2018. Dr Stekel says: ‚ÄúThis funding allows us to broaden our research with a PhD student working with team members who have not yet had access to resources from our other antimicrobial resistance research grants. Antimicrobial Resistance is a major global challenge and it will be very exciting to see the type of projects that are put forward and how they will help us progress our understanding of this problem.‚ÄĚ

Antibiotics transformed healthcare in the 20th Century and are considered one of the greatest medical achievements of the era. Today, we still rely on antibiotics to treat everything from minor cuts to life-threatening bacterial infections, and to prevent infection after surgery. These drugs have drastically improved our quality of life and increased our lifespan.

Global threat

In the 21st Century, antibiotic overuse and misuse has led to antibiotics rapidly becoming ineffective. Antimicrobial resistance, specifically antibiotic resistance, now poses a global threat to human life. We need urgent action to halt resistance and to speed up new treatments for bacterial infection. The Medical Research Foundations PhD Training Programme in AMR has been designed in response.

Working with the MRC, the Medical Research Foundation spotted a gap in funding for PhD studentships in this field of research ‚Äď currently there are few emerging researchers trained in the multidisciplinary approach required to tackle the antimicrobial resistance problem. The programme is designed to help build a strong, active network of new researchers to approach this global challenge in innovative ways.

The Medical Research Foundation‚Äôs Chair, Professor Nicholas Lemoine, said: ‚ÄúThe Medical Research Foundation is delighted to be funding the UK‚Äôs only¬†national PhD Training Programme in antimicrobial¬†resistance research. ¬†We believe¬†this will¬†help to strengthen the UK‚Äôs research capacity to respond to the¬†global health challenge of antimicrobial resistance,¬†including¬†antibiotic¬†resistance and¬†drug-resistant infections.‚ÄĚ

The Medical Research Foundation is continuing to seek funds from its supporters and other sources to fund two further cohorts of PhD students in antimicrobial resistance in the future.


Now recruiting: Research Associate/Fellow in Antimicrobial Resistance Modelling

We are now recruiting the mathematical modelling post-doc for the EVAL-FARMS project. This post will work with me, Theo Kypraios in Maths, and the EVAL-FARMS team more generally, developing mathematical models for risk of emergence of AMR pathogens in agricultural waste, using all the exciting data that are being generated by the empirical researchers on the grant. Details of the advert, as well as links to it, are:

Research Associate/Fellow in Antimicrobial Resistance Modelling

Agricultural & Environmental Sciences

Location:  Sutton Bonington
Salary:  £26,052 to £38,183 per annum, depending on skills and experience (minimum £29301 with relevant PhD). Salary progression beyond this scale is subject to performance
Closing Date:  Wednesday 28 June 2017
Reference:  SCI158617

We are seeking an excellent researcher in modelling of antimicrobial resistance. The successful applicant will use mathematical and statistical models to make predictions on risk of emergence of antimicrobial resistant pathogens in a farm slurry system and slurry amended soil. The post is funded by NERC-led EVAL-FARMS project (Evaluating the Threat of Antimicrobial Resistance in Agricultural Manures and Slurries). Thus the role holder will work closely with an interdisciplinary team, including experimental researchers in microbiology and analytical chemistry, and social researchers in science and technology studies, in order to develop meaningful, data driven risk models that could inform policy and practise. The work will involve deterministic and stochastic models, Bayesian statistics, data analysis and presentation.

Applicants must have, or be very close to completing, a PhD in mathematical, computer or statistical models applied to a relevant area in the biological or environmental sciences. Research experience in applying such models in antimicrobial resistance, metagenomics, analytical chemistry and/or water quality would be desirable. Applicants must be able to demonstrate skills in Bayesian approaches, including relevant computational techniques such as MCMC, development and analysis of deterministic and stochastic models, programming in a relevant language (e.g. R, Python or Matlab) and a broader appreciation of science. Applicants must also be able to demonstrate research ambition through timely publication of research, coupled with commitment to the research project as part of their on-going career development. Excellent oral and written English language skills are essential.

The post is a joint appointment between the Schools of Biosciences and Mathematical Sciences. The post holder will normally work on the Sutton Bonington Campus, and will also have meetings on the University Park Campus with staff in the School of Mathematics and other collaborating schools.

Fixed term for 2 years from 1st September 2017

Applications can be made through the University of Nottingham web site. I am happy to receive informal enquiries.

Congratulations to Sankalp Arya: International Research Collaboration Award

Congratulations to Sankalp who has received a ¬£2300 International Research Collaboration Award from the University of Nottingham. Sankalp will spend two months (September and October) in Barth Smets’s laboratory at the Technical University of Denmark. This is a really fantastic opportunity for Sankalp to work in one of the leading environmental microbiology groups in the world. His work will focus on developing the iDynomics platform for individual based modelling of microbial interactions to model antimicrobial resistance. Well done Sankalp! And I look forward to visiting Barth’s lab too as part of the project.


Nearly new publication: Metal Resistance and Its Association With Antibiotic Resistance. Advances in Microbial Physiology

Last month the review that Sankalp and I contributed to was published on line by Advances in Microbial Physiology. This review was led by Jon Hobman, with considerable writing by Chandan Pal. It is a real honour to have co-authored with the amazing Joakim Larsson. My own contribution was small: Sankalp contributed some review material on modelling, and I got stuck in with Joakim and Jon in the editing phase to ensure we had a coherent story. Overall, this is a very nice and timely review, and we have had a lot of interest in it already. Citation and abstract:

Pal C, Asiani K, Arya S, Rensing C, Stekel DJ, Larsson DGJ and Hobman JL 2017. Metal Resistance and Its Association With Antibiotic Resistance. Advances in Microbial Physiology. DOI:


Antibiotic resistance is recognised as a major global threat to public health by the World Health Organization. Currently, several hundred thousand deaths yearly can be attributed to infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The major driver for the development of antibiotic resistance is considered to be the use, misuse and overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals. Nonantibiotic compounds, such as antibacterial biocides and metals, may also contribute to the promotion of antibiotic resistance through co-selection. This may occur when resistance genes to both antibiotics and metals/biocides are co-located together in the same cell (co-resistance), or a single resistance mechanism (e.g. an efflux pump) confers resistance to both antibiotics and biocides/metals (cross-resistance), leading to co-selection of bacterial strains, or mobile genetic elements that they carry. Here, we review antimicrobial metal resistance in the context of the antibiotic resistance problem, discuss co-selection, and highlight critical knowledge gaps in our understanding.

On AMR Panel with Lord Jim O’Neill at University of Nottingham Chancellor’s Lecture

Last night I had the enormous privilege of being on a panel following Lord Jim O’Neill’s lecture on AMR as part of the University of Nottingham’s Chancellor’s Lecture series.


It was a real coup for the university to have Jim O’Neill speak. It was a great event – well attended by alumni and many other’s. The lecture was brilliant: O’Neill is a very engaging speaker and spoke with confidence and passion on the findings of his report. He mainly focussed on the ten point plan:



It was especially interesting seeing AMR from the perspective of an economist: not just in quantifying the problem in monetary terms (his argument that $40B spend will save $100T costs is compelling) but also how he breaks down the solutions into ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ side solutions and especially his emphasis on the importance of reducing demand for antibiotics through 6 of his points. (I’m not sure where our emphasis on waste management fits into that – but that is another matter – and actually having an economist (Steve Ramsden) on our project also helps framing it).

Professor Liz Sockett kindly asked me to serve on the panel (along side Dr Mat Diggle from EmPath) – this was a new experience for me – I was a little nervous – but the questions were good and interesting. The first couple of questions were more clinically focussed and answered by Liz and Mat. A question came up about how we prevent rapid spread of resistance to any new antibiotics we might discover. Mat gave a good answer from a clinical perspective, and I was able to add that there would need to be very wise use (if at all) of any new clinically important antibiotics in veterinary use. (To be fair, that point is¬† made in the O’Neill report anyway!) And then got a question direct to me about agricultural waste¬† management practises in developing countries. This was a nice one – as I have recently visited China and then had visitors from South Africa. So I was able to speak about the challenges of AMR from pig farming in China – the Chinese government are very committed to environmental research and China has a very well-funded research programme; South Africa is also very interesting because there is a mix of modern farming where the challenge of reducing antibiotic use is similar to in the UK, and then traditional subsistence farming, where nutrition is the biggest challenge, and the antibiotic challenge is more about access to antibiotics rather than use reduction.

After the talk, many interesting people came to speak with me, which was really nice, while Professor Christine Dodd looked after our stand and she also received many questions.

Official photographs will follow. The photograph at the top is thanks to Adam Roberts (from his twitter feed).





Research Associate/Fellow in Science and Technology Studies (STS)

We are now advertising the next postdoctoral job for the EVAL-FARMS project. This is a part time role (3 days/week) for three years.

Research Associate/Fellow in Science and Technology Studies (STS)

Sociology & Social Policy

Location:  Sutton Bonington
Salary:  £26,052 to £38,183 per annum, pro rata depending on skills and experience (minimum £29301 with relevant PhD). Salary progression beyond this scale is subject to performance
Closing Date:  Friday 02 December 2016
Reference:  SOC323516

We are seeking an excellent researcher in Science and Technology Studies.

The post-holder will conduct qualitative ethnographic work and interviews on social and cultural aspects of knowledge on antimicrobial resistance in laboratory and farm settings, with the University of Nottingham, UK as the main focus.

Applicants must have a PhD (or be near to completion)  in science and technology studies (STS), human geography or related field, including postgraduate training in social science research methods, or have equivalent relevant knowledge, skills and experience. You must be able to engage with a wide range of stakeholders, including scientists and farmers, as you would be part of a highly multidisciplinary team. Excellent oral and written English language skills are essential. Applicants must be highly motivated, ambitious and have a proven track record of timely research publications (from PhD or beyond).

The post is funded by the NERC EVAL-FARMS project (Evaluating the Threat of Antimicrobial Resistance in Agricultural Manures and Slurries), and will be jointly supervised by the School of Sociology and Social Policy (Institute for Science and Society/ISS) and the School of Geography.

The Associate/Fellow will be primarily located in the School of Biosciences and expect to be physically present on the Sutton Bonington campus, where the scientific work in EVAL-FARMS will be carried out. The fellow will spend roughly a third of their time on University Park where the Schools of Sociology and Social Policy, and of Geography are located.


Informal enquiries may be addressed to Sujatha Raman tel: 0115 846 7039 or email Please note that applications sent directly to this email address will not be accepted.