PhD position at KU Leuven: Managing micropollutant biodegradation in drinking water treatment systems


PhD position at KU Leuven: Managing micropollutant biodegradation in drinking water treatment systems

Deadline: January 15, 2017

Reference: (Ref. DOCO-2016-99)



This PhD topic belongs to the call(s) stated below. Before applying, please check if you are eligible to the programme. For more information about required qualifications and application procedure, please visit the call webpage: TAIWAN SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAMME


A PhD position is available at the Division of Soil and Water Management to perform research on the microbiology of drinking water treatment plants (DWTPs) to improve biological micropollutant removal. The project aims at a better understanding of the physiology and gene expression of selected oligotrophic bacterial strains isolated from rapid sandfilters of DWTPs and their genetic manipulation to degrade specific pesticide residues that occur in the DWTP intake groundwater by introducing dedicated catabolic genes derived from copiotrophic soil bacteria.


Managing micropollutant biodegradation in drinking water treatment systems

The Division of Soil and Water Managemen (DSWM) investigates how soil and water can be preserved as our natural resources. The “Environmental Microbiology” group of Prof. Dr. Dirk Springael studies the microbial ecology of polluted environments aiming at unravelling the interactions between organic pollutant degrading organisms and their abiotic and biotic environment using up to date microbial and molecular approaches including meta-omics technology. This knowledge is expected to lead to improved understanding and control of organic pollutant biological removal processes in both natural and technological ecosystems. Latest research addreses the biological removal of micropollutants and in particular pesticide residues in drinking water treatment plants in which the succesful applicant will contribute.

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The occurence of pesticide residues as micropollutants in intake water for drinking water production, forms an important issue in drinking water treatment plants (DWTPs) since specific and costly additional treatment units are required to produce drinking water in which pesticide residue concentrations are below the EU threshold level of 0.1 microgram per liter. Biological processes that use bioaugmentation of biofiltration units in DWTPs with dedicated pesticide residue degrading organisms is regarded as a economically sound alternative. Several bacterial strains are available that metabolize pesticide residues that occur as micropollutants in intake water for drinking water production and that are of interest for bioaugmentation of DWTPs. However, these “copiotrophic” bacteria that were almost exclusively isolated from nutrient rich environments like soil, do not perform that well in the oligotrophic environment of DWTP units. This project aims at acquiring a better understanding of the life style, physology and gene expression in oligotrophic bacterial strains that we have isolated from rapid sand filter units of DWTPs and that would be better adapted then soil organisms to the particular oligotrophic environment of DWTP units. The genomic sequence for instance of these organisms indicate that they in contrast with many copiotrophic bacteria, are mixotrophic. The aim of this project is to understand survival, growth and gene expression under oligotrophic conditions of these sand filter isolates and use this information to direct expression of dedicated pesticide catabolic genes originating from copiotrohic bacteria in the oligotrophic organisms. The constructs will be tested for improved survival and pesticide degrading activity in laboratory microcosms mimicking DWTP filter units compared to copiotrophic bacteria.



The applicant should have knowledge and/or hands-on expertise in bacterial genetics and physiology and have interest in environmental microbiology. Expertise in cloning and heterlogous expression of bacterial genes is a surplus.




For more information please contact Prof. dr. ir. Dirk Springael, tel.: +32 16 32 16 04, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than January 15, 2017 via the

online application tool


Downloads : pdf

Kunlere Idowu

Kunlere is an environment and sustainable development strategist with years of active experience in environmental compliance monitoring and enforcement. You may follow him on Twitter via @kunlere_idowu


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