Andris Grigorjevs

University of Warwick


Degradation of synthetic chemicals in water-sediment systems


Prof. Gary Bending, Dr. J M Pearson

PhD Summary

The aim of the project is to investigate a range of factors influencing biodegradation of synthetic chemicals in aquatic systems, using a range of experimental techniques, including metagenomics. The implications of this research are important for the industry to understand which chemicals may persist and harm the environment and which will not and to investigate the limitations of current Ready Biodegradability Test (RBT), which is required for production of chemicals. However it is also important for scientific purposes to understand underlying metabolic pathways, the role of various bacterial and fungal species and the effect of experimental scale on degradation of synthetic chemicals.

What inspires you

I have always enjoyed to think about how things work and to find solutions to problems. In fact, when I am presented with a problem, I can’t stop when I find a solution, I tend to look for alternative solutions, just because I enjoy it. I feel that this constant desire should be used to do something useful, such as research. I am interested in many things, but I had a particular interest in biology, so I’ve decided to study that at University. At my present work, I started as a lab technician, but I quickly was interested in engineering side of things, so I’ve learned to make components of water treatment systems, which were interesting to understand, I’ve learned to weld, because it was interesting, then I got interested in control of these systems, so I learned to program programmable logic controllers and I know how all components of most control panels work (although I am not licensed to create or modify those for work purposes). I am servicing pumps and electric motors, all of which I learned just out of curiosity (which was encouraged by my manager). When I started driving a while ago, I got interested in how cars work, so I learned by doing, I now service my and all my family’s cars, I can fix all suspension, brake and engine related problems and some electrical faults, but it was all driven by simple curiosity. However, I really want to do real research, where I can put my curiosity and problem solving to the challenging task of finding out something that has not been found or proven before. This is a real challenge and I understand that it takes time and hard work to achieve something in research, but that is something I’d like to commit to. I would like to push the boundaries of existing knowledge in a particular area, to discover something new, which is new for everybody.

Previous activity

I have BSc in Biology and MSc in Oncology. I have worked in engineering and biological laboratories for the last 4 years, both in academia and industry. My current work is at Celtic Technologies, as engineering technician.

Why did you choose doctoral research?

I have both bachelor and masters degree in biological sciences, and best and most enjoyable part of both degrees have been research projects. I know that research fits me well, I like to think about problems and come up with solutions, this is my passion, I get really interested and focused on research when it is my own project. I know for sure that this is something I will enjoy. I also have experience of working in various technical roles in academic research and industrial research and I know that I would like to do more than that, to be more than a technician, to influence the research, to make decisions, to be able to choose what to do and how to do it. However, to do that I need to be trained, I am old enough to understand that optimism and hard work are important but are not enough, one needs to be guided and trained in his or her first attempts at independent work, before they are experienced and confident enough to undertake such projects on their own. I will enjoy every opportunity to learn during this doctoral training.

Why did you choose CENTA?

I was very interested in Prof. Gary Bending’s project, which was competitively funded by CENTA. It seemed to fit me perfectly in both my research interest and my work experience and education. I am a biologist, but I was working in engineering environment of a company which offers services of contaminated soil and water treatment. I had experience of building the water treatment systems and setting up and running experiments on various soil and water treatment methods. I participated in design (only minor role), construction and implementation of water treatment systems, including those which treat leachate at our STFs (Soil Treatment Facilities). These are very large compounds where the process of biodegradation by microbes is harnessed to degrade and remove large range of contaminants (such as polyaromatic hydrocarbons) from soil which is brought from client sites. I went to lectures on the subject and was very interested in why there is not much research done in determining which species of bacteria or archea or fungi degrade one particular chemical or another, why won’t they use metagenomics? The answer was lack of funding required for such research. As soon as I’ve seen this project, I knew it would be perfect for my interest, because it tackles this question and more, with much wider implications than I realised – such as Prof. Gary Bending’s ongoing research effort into Ready Biodegradability Testing used by chemical industry, a part of which my project is going to be. Therefore I was inspired by this project and cannot wait to start!

Future plans

It is hard to speculate on what awaits me in future, but I know that I want to participate in scientific research, preferably in my own research, or at least to be able to choose a direction of research which I may find interesting. It is quite possible that I will seek employment either in academia or industry, in companies such as Syngenta or Unilever. This doctoral program would enable me to participate in research of biodegradation of synthetic chemicals and its implications for either production of new chemicals (something which companies such as Syngenta participate in) or in remediation industry where I currently work, which focuses on cleaning up contaminated land and water through biodegradation, such as the process used in soil treatment facilities of Biogenie.