Can environmental RNA characterise the physiological status of a critically endangered fish?


An opportunity to apply for a funded full-time PhD in the College of Health, Science and Society, UWE Bristol. The studentship will be funded by UWE Bristol.

Ref: 2223-APR-CHSS06

The expected start date of this studentship is Saturday 1 April 2023.

The closing date for applications is Sunday 12 February 2023.

Studentship details

Environmental DNA (eDNA) methods, which monitor species’ presence by identifying DNA extracted from the environment, have developed rapidly over the past decade. For freshwater fish, eDNA surveys offer improved detection sensitivity, simplified survey methods and decreased need for invasive handling. However, when additional data about fish age and health are required, capture methods are still needed. For rare, elusive species the issues associated with traditional catch-based surveys can hamper conservation action.

Recent demonstrations that species’ RNA can also be recovered from the environment offers the possibility that enviro-genetic screening can provide this more detailed data non-invasively by monitoring the expression of genes related to ecologically relevant traits such as their physiological status.

We propose to build upon our existing eDNA research, using the European eel as a case study species, to demonstrate how changes in gene expression levels can be monitored in aquatic settings as individuals and their environment change.

Once an important food stuff, the European eel is a critically endangered diadromous species of global interest and the current low population status is hard to assess using standard methods. Improved survey methods are needed to evaluate the impact of conservation interventions. Having previously demonstrated a powerful eDNA monitoring method for European eel, this species is an ideal model to develop novel RNA-based methods.

There will be the opportunity to develop partnerships with industry stakeholders such as Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the Rivers Trusts.

For an informal discussion about the studentship please contact Mark Steer at


The studentship is available from Saturday 1 April 2023 for a period of three years, subject to satisfactory progress and includes a tax-exempt stipend, which is currently £17,668 (2022/23) per annum.

In addition, full-time tuition fees will be covered for up to three years.


Full field, laboratory and analytical training will be provided. However, candidates with a background in biology, genetics, biochemistry, ecology or a related field are strongly encouraged to apply. Experience in bioinformatics, laboratory and field work are desirable.

The position is open to UK and international applicants.

A recognised English language qualification is required.

How to apply

Please submit your application online. When prompted use the reference number 2223-APR-CHSS06.

Supporting documentation: You will need to upload your research proposal, all your degree certificates and transcripts and your proof of English language proficiency as attachments to your application, so please have these available when you complete the application form.

References: You will need to provide details of two referees as part of your application. At least one referee must be an academic referee from the institution that conferred your highest degree. Your referee will be asked for a reference at the time you submit your application, so please ensure that your nominated referees are willing and able to provide references within 14 days of your application being submitted.

Closing date

The closing date for applications is Sunday 12 February 2023.

Further information

It is expected that interviews will take place on weeks commencing Monday 6 March 2023. If you have not heard from us by this date, we thank you for your application but on this occasion you have not been successful.

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