Marie Rønne Aggerbeck

M.Sc. , PhD Student

Marie Rønne Aggerbeck

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PhD project: A survey of genetic mechanisms behind degradation of Environmental Endocrine Disruptors in wastewater.

University: Aarhus University Department: Department of Environmental Science

Section: EMCIF, ENVS, AU;

Research group: EED, MITO, ENVS, AU.

Supervisor: Anders Johansen, EMCIF, ENVS, AU (Co-supervisors: Lea Ellegaard-Jensen, EMCIF, ENVS, AU; Martin Hansen, MITO, ENVS, AU & Lars Hestbjerg Hansen, PLEN, SCIENCE, KU.)

Project term: 01.05.2018 – 30.04.2021

Master’s degree: MSc in Biology, specialisation in Evolutionary Biology and Ecology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

BACKGROUND

While most harmful substances are degraded during water treatment processes, certain chemicals in our water system have proven difficult to break down, and end up in the environment, where they bioaccumulate. 
Among these contaminants of emerging concern are chemicals working as endocrine disruptors. An endocrine disruptor is any substance capable of blocking receptors, mimicking hormones or otherwise interfering with the endogenous endocrine system of living beings, thereby derailing hormonal equilibria or disrupting developmental processes. The result can be birth defects and lowered fertility rates, cancer and/or severe organ damage in affected wildlife, which may ultimately lead to population decline or even ecosystem collapse.   

Environmental endocrine disruptors are diverse, and have been identified as e.g. pharmaceutical products like prescribed steroid hormones, or additives/sealants such as flame retardants. Some of these substances are naturally present in lower concentrations in most environments, but in areas of human habitation, additional quantities of these drugs are washed out from households, production facilities and hospitals, posing a significant threat especially to aquatic ecosystems.

AIM

The aim of my PhD project is to discover strains of bacteria able to degrade molecular endocrine disruptors. I will focus on discovering bacterial genetic operation mechanisms and attempt to assess their potential in biotechnological applications, specifically bioremediation on wastewater treatment. Particular focus will be on changes in genetic structure, as these strains are subjected to different concentrations of the pollutants we choose to work with. I hypothesize a genetic response to higher substance concentration, in the form of additional copies of plasmids, or changes in genetic expression of existing loci.

RESEARCH OUTLINE

This project will apply a diverse suite of techniques – uHPLC and MS technology to assess compound composition in samples, hybrid assemblies of Illumina and ONT sequences to obtain whole, closed genomes of microorganisms, annotation and metabolomics to investigate placement of degradation loci, as well as a range of microbiological laboratory techniques to isolate, grow and quantify our microorganisms.

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