School of Engineering


Gregg Iceton

Next Generation Sequencing For The Water Industry

  • STREAM EngD Cohort III
  • Start Date:1 October 2011
  • End Date: EngD awarded March 2018; graduation July 2018
  • Research Area: Water
  • Supervisors: Dr Russell Davenport, Prof Thomas Curtis, Northumbrian Water Limited, WRc plc, United Utilities and Scottish Water

My research project

I investigated the potential applications of a next generation sequencing platform in relation to the water and wastewater industry. After discussion with the sponsors, we decided to investigate activated sludge microbial ecology and microbial source tracking.

The activated sludge work identified the fingerprints of an efficient plant. This allowed proactive management to prevent foaming, bulking or consent failure, as well as preventing over-aeration and subsequent energy wastage.

The microbial source tracking work assisted in catchment management and bathing water quality enhancement by identifying the primary source of pollution load. This prevents unnecessary capital expenditure. It also minimises energy use in treatment by reducing the load upon the plant.

My academic and work history

I graduated from Newcastle University in 2007 with a degree in Marine Biology. I particularly enjoyed learning about molecular biology. I decided to continue my studies by taking an MSc in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology.

Graduating in 2010, I wanted to use my knowledge in an applied way and began looking for the ideal opportunity. When searching for bioinformatics opportunities, I came across the STREAM EngD project 'Next generation sequencing for the water industry'. The applied nature of the course impressed me.

I wasn't really considering a PhD as I didn't want to go in to academia. When I looked into the EngD, I realised the whole course is geared towards gaining a position in industry. The combination of significant time spent with industry sponsors and structured training throughout is highly attractive.

What STREAM offers

I learnt a great deal about the water industry in a very short time, thanks to the induction semester. A group assignment involved designing a wastewater treatment plant from start to finish; I remember thinking it was an impossible task at the outset. These days, whenever I start to think the learning curve is eternally vertical, I think back to that project and the feeling of satisfaction when I submitted my contribution. The course is by no means easy, but the knowledge gained is immense.

Outside the taught component, the time spent with sponsors has given me a feel for how the industry works in reality. I found the breadth of work fascinating. The potential for development is unlimited. The sponsors are really enthusiastic about what we're doing and are willing to help in any way they can.

In my current career, the main benefits are in the soft skills.

For example, I now have a much better grasp of how to read, understand and critique papers, which is key in evidence-based practice. Time management and prioritisation are vital, both in the day-to-day job and also the academic rigours of the course.

Another important skill is knowing how to adjust communication to suit the audience. For example, an elderly man having a heart attack needs a different approach to a young man having a mental health crisis. I honed this skill when I communicated the complexities of my research to a lay audience, whilst not obscuring its value and wider purpose.

Current status

After launching my own company based on my EngD research, offering genetic profiling of bacteria, I have returned to the NHS and am now a qualified paramedic.