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


Background: 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.

Objectives: The aim of this project is to engineer 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 test for genetic variation in responses to nanoplastic exposure, providing a first step towards understanding the potential for evolutionary rescue in response to nanoplastics. You will then compare the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of replicated Daphnia populations exposed to nanoplastic treatments, to better understand the significance of nanoplastic pollution in natural environments.

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 are expected to be novel with implications for policy, industry, and conservation strategies.


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 normal personal/supporting statement/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.

The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Informal enquiries may be made to 


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2023.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2022/23 UKRI rate £17,668)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2022/23 rate £4,596)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees (£4,596 at 2022/23 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2022/23 entry were £25,950 (full time) per annum.



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:
Harney E, Paterson S, Collin H, Chan BHK, Bennett D, Plaistow SJ (2022) Pollution induces epigenetic effects that are stably transmitted across multiple generations. Evolution Letters, 6: 118–135
Hasoon MSR, Plaistow SJ (2020) Embryogenesis plasticity and the transmission of maternal effects in Daphnia pulex. Evolution & Development, 22: 345–357
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