James P Berry

Molecular biology approaches for the characterisation and the enhancement of PAH biodegradation in coke oven effluents.

PhD Research Student

Telephone: +44 (0) 114 22 25785 James Berry
Room: LG52
Email: james.berry@sheffield.ac.uk


James graduated from the University of Sheffield with BSc (Hons) in Chemistry. He spent five years in two UKAS-accredited environmental analysis laboratories, starting at ALcontrol and later moving to STS-AS (now ALS). During that time he analysed waste, raw and potable water for the YWS contract using varied techniques from wet chemistry through automated discrete colorimetric analysis to GC/MS and LC/QQQ. In 2012 he took a six-month contract at the University of Sheffield under Professor Lerner to develop a GC/MS scan method for research into diffuse pollution.

Research interests

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are designated by the European Union (EU) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as priority pollutants because of their carcinogenic and mutagenic effects on humans and animals. A broad range of PAHs have been detected in coke oven effluents (produced as a byproduct of turning coal into clean-burning coke), including a series of compounds identified as Priority Hazardous Substances (PHSs) in the Water Framework Directive, such as benzo[a]pyrene. Biological factors (e.g. PAH-degrading population, competition between bacterial strains and gene expression) which can play a major role in PAH degradation have not been fully characterised and are poorly understood. Recent developments in molecular biology methods (e.g. DNA extraction, amplification and cloning) can now be used to fully characterise at the molecular level the bacterial species involved in PAHs degradation, and to enhance the biodegradation capabilities of the bacterial communities.

The objectives of this 3-year EPSRC Industry Case Studentship sponsored by Tata Steel are:

  • To isolate, identify and fully characterise the bacterial strains involved in the degradation of PAHs present in coke oven effluents (particularly B[a]P and anthracene).
  • To extract the PAH-degrading plasmids of selected PAH-degrading bacterial strains.
  • To characterise the gene expression of PAH-degrading bacteria and the effects of chemical and physical process parameters in biological effluent treatment plants.
  • To apply stable isotope probing to reveal uncultured bacteria for PAH degradation.