Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Joseph Donald Martin


Joseph Donald Martin

PhD project: Microbiomes for biodegradation of environmental micropollutants

University: Aarhus University
Department: Department of Environmental Science

Section: Environmental Microbiology
Supervisor:  Lea Ellegaard-Jensen

Carsten Suhr Jacobsen (AU)

Martin Hansen (AU)

Lars Hestbjerg Hansen (KU –PLEN) 

Project term: 01.06.2018 – 31.05.2021
Master’s degree: MSc in Applied and Environmental Geoscience, specialization in Geomicrobiology; University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany



Micropollutants, now coined as emerging water resource contaminants, are pollutants present at concentrations between pg/L to µg/L. They originate from a multitude of both anthropogenic and natural sources including pesticides, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, and naturally occurring steroid hormones. Current wastewater treatment plants are not built to manage, treat, or eliminate pollutants at such low concentrations, thereby, facilitating their dispersal into the aquatic environment and drinking water reserves. 


This project aims to investigate various microbiomes speculated to have the potential for micropollutant biodegradation. The microbiomes of interest are to be found in agricultural soil and sediment, waterworks filter material, and laboratory scale wastewater treatment bioreactors. Microbial communities will be cultivated using a variety of microbiological approaches and exposed to micropollutants. Chemical analysis will be conducted in order to prove that the enriched communities are in fact degrading the micropollutants of interest. Upon proving degradation is occurring, isolation attempts of key organisms will be conducted. Based on the outcome of those experiments, certain omic techniques will be utilized to further investigate and elucidate the microbial players involved, the degradation mechanisms, and finally the degradation pathways of the micropollutants.


This PhD project is broken down into three work packages, each of which focuses on a specific class of micropollutant:

  1. Pesticides: Investigation of soil and waterworks sand filter microbiomes for communities capable of degrading pesticides and their metabolites.
  2. Pharmaceuticals: Incorporating the use of a laboratory scale biofilm based treatment method, moving bed biofilm reactor (MBBR), a technique incorporated in many wastewater treatment facilities.
  3. Personal care products: A collaborative project with GEUS focusing on a specific UV filter, an active ingredient used commonly in personal care products worldwide.


Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) – Geochemistry department

Copenhagen University – Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences

ID: 125413118