Biodegradation of polyfluorinated chemicals in fire-fighting foams


Polyfluorinated alkyl substances(PFAS) have been used for decades as ingredients in fire-fighting foams. In the last few years, it has been realised that this has led to widespread environmental contamination with PFAS, which have toxic properties and do not break down in the environment. We will seek to develop new means of cleaning up these pollutants by harnessing the activities of microorganisms.


Associate Professor Nicholas Coleman, Professor Balwant Singh

Research Location

School of Life and Environmental Sciences

Program Type



To date, there is very little evidence for PFAS biodegradation, and the compounds appear to be nearly completely resistant to biological attack. Several parallel approaches will be taken to find or make PFAS-degrading microbes. First, we will screen known bacteria with powerful oxidative enzymes such as methane monooxygenase (MMO) to determine if they are capable of partial breakdown of PFAS or structurally-related compounds. Second, we will search intensively at PFAS-contaminated sites for evidence of bacteria capable of metabolising PFAS. Finally, we will use directed evolution and rational design strategies to modify existing biodegradation enzymes to metabolise PFAS.

Additional Information

The project will require some background in microbiology, molecular biology, and biochemistry.  

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirements may include: 

  • Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
  • Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
  • Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
  • Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
  • Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
  • Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
  • Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights; Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
  • Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
  • Hold a current scuba diving license;
  • Hold a current Working with Children Check;
  • Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.) 
You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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microbiology, environmental science, ecology, soil science

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 2476

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