Ecological and evolutionary consequences of nanoplastic pollution in the water flea, Daphnia magna


The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, faith or religious belief, pregnancy or maternity, parental or caring responsibilities or career pathway to date. We understand that a student’s potential can be shown in many ways and we strive to recruit students from all backgrounds, and support them on their scientific journey.

We have designed our application systems to identify candidates who are likely to be successful in research regardless of what opportunities may have been available to them prior to their application.

Various support and guidance on applying for an ACCE DTP studentship, including how to apply; what we’re looking for (including our assessment rubric); details of financial support, training, and placement opportunities available; and details of our recruitment process, can be found at, in the ‘prospective applicants’ tab.

Project overview


Plastic pollution is a pressing global problem. It is estimated that 60% of all plastic ever produced has been released into the environment. Waste plastic breaks down to form microplastics (< 5mm) and nanoplastics (1-100nm) that when ingested, potentially cause damage to ecosystems and human health. Nanoplastics are especially toxic because their small size allows them to enter tissues microplastics cannot reach, even passing through cell membranes. Nanomedicine has shown us that the properties of engineered nanoparticles (size, shape, charge, polymer) greatly alter their biological impact and fate. However, the effect that nanoplastic properties have on their toxicity is unknown. This is because studies to date have been conducted in laboratories using ‘model’ polystyrene nanoparticles, which are not necessarily relevant to nanoplastic pollution in the wild.


The aim of this project is to synthesize and characterise the properties of nanoplastic particles generated from everyday plastics. You will then use these ecologically relevant nanoplastic particles to test the hypothesis that particle properties influence their toxicity, capacity for bioaccumulation, and capacity for transmission across generations. Working with the model organism Daphnia magna you will investigate how biotic and abiotic factors alter nanoplastic toxicity and behaviour. Finally, you will use our state-of-the-art mesocosm facility to study the ecological and evolutionary consequences of nanoplastic exposures in replicated whole ecosystems. Our CASE project partner (Steve Morris, Defra’s Water Quality Evidence & Policy team) will provide the advice, direction and guidance required to ensure that our findings remain relevant to policy and industry needs.

Novelty and Timeliness

Nanoplastic pollution may pose a major threat to biodiversity and human health. This unique cross-disciplinary project enables us to synthesize ecologically relevant nanoparticles and test their biological significance in an ecologically relevant, keystone species. The results collected will be novel with implications for water quality policy, industry, and conservation strategies.

Essential and Desirable Criteria


  • A good understanding of Ecology and Evolution
  • Statistical analysis in R
  • Good laboratory skills
  • A good understanding of experimental design
  • Organisational skills
  • Teamwork


  • Experience of working with nanoplastics/ microplastics
  • Experience working with Daphnia/mesocsoms
  • Biochemistry/chemistry
  • Microscopy experience


How to Apply

Notes and details of how to apply are available here:

All applicants to ACCE must complete the ACCE personal statement proforma. This is instead of a personal/supporting statement or cover letter. The proforma is designed to standardise this part of the application to minimise the difference between those who are given support and those who are not. Candidates should also submit a CV and the contact details of 2 referees.

Part-Time Study Options

All ACCE PhDs are available as part time or full time, with part time being a minimum of 50% of full time. Please discuss potential part time arrangements with the primary supervisor before applying to the programme.

Project CASE Status

This project is a CASE project. Your project will be co-supervised by the non-academic partner organisation, and you will spend 3-6 months on a placement with your CASE partner in their workplace. You will experience training, facilities and expertise not available in an academic setting, and will build business and research collaborations. Your CASE partner will also contribute an additional £1000 per year to your Research and Training Support Grant.


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

NERC ACCE DTP programme starts from October 2024.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2023/24 UKRI rate £18,622)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2023/24 rate £4,712)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees. The DTP partners have various schemes which allow international students to join the DTP but only be required to pay home fees. Home fees are already covered in the UKRI funding, meaning that successful international candidates do not need to find any additional funding for fees.



1.Daniel E. Sadler, Franziska S. Brunner, & Plaistow, S.J. (2019) Temperature and clone-dependent effects of microplastics on immunity and life-history in Daphnia magna, Environmental Pollution, 255: 113178
2.Hasoon MSR, Plaistow SJ (2020) Embryogenesis plasticity and the transmission of maternal effects in Daphnia pulex. Evolution & Development, 22: 345–357
3.Plaistow SJ, Brunner FS, O’Connor M (2022) Quantifying population and clone-specific non-linear reaction norms to food gradients in Daphnia magna. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10:
4.Riley, C.L., Oostra, V., Plaistow, S. J. (2023) Does the definition of a novel environment affect the ability to detect cryptic genetic variation? Journal of Evolutionary Biology, (in press)