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PhD Studentship: Plant-based diets and health - tackling an invisible "enemy".

University of Hertfordshire
United Kingdom
Closing date
20 May 2024

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Plant-based diets and their influence on human health. How to manage an invisible "enemy"?

Enquiries: Dr. Shoib Sarwar Siddiqui - 

Supervisors: Dr. Esther Garcia-Cela, Dr. Shoib Sarwar Siddiqui, Dr Lisa Lione

Applications are invited by Centre for Future Societies Research for a fully funded PhD studentship at the University of Hertfordshire.

These research studentships will be part of the University Alliance (UA) Doctoral Training Alliance in Future Societies.

The studentships are offered on a full-time basis for three years from September 2024 (subject to satisfactory progress) and provide a bursary of a minimum of £19,162 per annum (to be confirmed), including a full tuition fee waiver for three years. Awards increase every year in line with UKRI recommendations.

The problem to be addressed

Plant-Based lifestyles have grown significantly in recent years. Currently, 19% of the UK population classifies themselves as vegetarians or vegans (FSA, 2019). The UK market for meat substitutes is worth over 500 million euros, making it the largest in Europe (Statistic, 2022). According to recent studies, oat milk drinks, oat flakes and baby food based on oats and soy were found to be contaminated with mycotoxins (fungal toxins), including “emerging mycotoxins” (Dropa et al., 2021, Arroyo-Manzanares et al., 2019). Mycotoxins cause health hazards such as neurotoxic, nephrotoxic, hematopoietic, mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic (Garcia-Cela et 2012). In 2019, mycotoxins were the second leading cause of food alerts from the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF, 2022).


There are more than 300 mycotoxins known worldwide, but only seven mycotoxins are legislated and monitored; therefore, mycotoxins’ real exposure to human health is underestimated (invisible “enemy”). Around 25% of all agricultural products are contaminated by mycotoxins, and their presence in ultra-processed plant-based food is currently unknown (Eskola et al., 2020). Recent studies have demonstrated that low mycotoxins doses are associated with developing chronic intestinal inflammatory disease and colon cancer (Lo et al. 2021).


This project will decipher if a plant-based diet and ultra-processed plant-based food increase the exposure of “emerging mycotoxins” and affect the progression of colon cancer.


The selected PhD will work in the following areas i) understand vegan/vegetarian food consumption patterns in the UK through questionnaire-based survey ii) quantification of “emergent mycotoxins” in the most commonly consumed plant-based/ultra-processed plant-based foods, iii) gut microbiota assessment in plant-based diet/ultra-processed plant-based food consumers, and iv) overall carcinogenic potential of “emergent mycotoxins” on colon cancer.

Potential contribution to knowledge

This novel research will be published in high-impact journals, increase public awareness of mycotoxins, and inform food safety policymakers with the goal of protecting consumers and public health.

Applicant requirements

Applicants must have a UK good honours degree (First-Class Honours or Upper Second-Class Honours) in a relevant field or equivalent and additionally an appropriate Masters qualification would be beneficial.

How to apply

Applicants are required to provide the following documents:

  • a completed application form (download the application form)
  • a cover letter explaining their interest in the proposed project title and the relevance of their background to the proposed project title
  • an up to date CV
  • two academic references
  • copies of qualification certificates and transcripts
  • a copy of passport photo page.

Please send completed applications, choosing one of the available project titles shown above, to Doctoral College at, using the following format in the email subject line: Future Societies Research Studentships via AMI.

Key dates

Closing date for applications: 20 May 2024. Interviews will start soon after the closing date.

Start date: September 2024.

Please note that the studentships are available and therefore applicable to applicants permanently resident in the UK and who qualify for home fees status only, as result of the available source of funding. The University particularly welcomes applications from British Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic applicants.

Apply for PhD Studentship: Plant-based diets and health - tackling an invisible "enemy".

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