School of Engineering


Aidan Robson

The development of a next-generation microbial source tracking analytical tool

We are delighted to announce that Aidan passed his Viva on Tuesday 30 July 2019.  Aidan should officially graduate at the 2020 Summer Congregation Ceremony in Newcastle.

My research focus is microbial source tracking; an umbrella term for techniques which use microbes or microbial communities to identify sources of biological pollution affecting water bodies.

If perfected, this use of microbes would allow informed, subjective decisions to be taken and potentially millions to be saved by stakeholders concerned with catchment management and improving bathing and drinking water quality.

The project aims to develop new methods and markers through the whole genome sequencing of E. coli and Enterococci and the whole community analysis of Enterococci communities.

This project also aims to develop the first methodology, specific to the water industry, for the use of next generation sequencing in microbial source tracking to enable source tracking to accepted and used more easily by MST practitioners and the wider water industry.

The methodology will use novel methods to indicate pollution sources directly through E. coli and Enterococci monitoring. This is particularly relevant to the European and US water industries who monitor bathing and drinking water quality using these faecal indicator bacteria. It is also relevant to assessing public health risk, since human faecal pollution may present a greater risk than other pollution sources.

I took a convoluted path into environmental engineering and the water industry.

After almost four years of teaching physics I wanted to give myself new challenges and pursue an EngD. I completed the MSc in Environmental Engineering at Newcastle University, graduating at the top of the year and completing a project in the anaerobic digestion of food waste.

The use of microbial communities in technologies fascinates me and drew me to this project. I applied for the STREAM IDC EngD, in particular, because of the industrial links. I like the thought of my research having direct industrial applications and impacts.

Current status

Policy Advisor, DEFRA