Dr Robert Ferguson

Senior Lecturer
School of Life Sciences
Dr Robert Ferguson
  • Email

  • Telephone

    +44 (0) 1206 872552

  • Location

    3SW.3.18, Colchester Campus



I use molecular methods to investigate how environmental microorganisms effect human and environmental health. One of my key interests is bioaerosols, the airborne microorganisms that surround us. I am also investigating the effects of pesticides on the key ecosystem services aquatic microorganisms provide. My research interests include | Environmental Microbiology | Molecular microbial ecology | Human health | Antimicrobial Resistance | Oil Microbiology | Biodegradation | Bioremediation | Biotechnology | Nanoparticles | Wastewater Treatment |Anaerobic Digestion | Deep-Sea Microbiology | Pesticides | Aquaculture


  • PhD - Microbial Ecology Cranfield University, (2014)

  • MSc - Sustainable Aquaculture Systems Plymouth University, (2009)

  • BSc(hons) - Marine Biology Plymouth University, (2007)


University of Essex

  • Lecturer, University of Essex (1/6/2020 - present)

  • Senior postdoctoral research officer, University of Essex (1/7/2015 - 31/5/2020)

  • Public Outreach officer: NERC Environmental Microbiology and Human health Program, University of Essex (1/1/2017 - 1/9/2018)

Other academic

  • Postdoctoral Research assistant, University of Aberdeen (1/3/2014 - 30/6/2015)

Research and professional activities

Research interests

Microbial Ecology of Anaerobic Digestion/Wastewater treatment

Microbial Degradation of oil hydrocarbons



Molecular Microbial Ecology

Environmental microbiology and human health

Molecular Ecology

Next generation sequencing and bioinformatics

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the environment

Metagenetics, metagenomics

Current research

Rapid monitoring of bioaerosols in industrial, agricultural and urban environments. RAMBIE

Next-generation sequencing is being used to investigate the airborne microbiome. Metagenetics and transcriptomics are being used to understand how the airborne microbiome interacts with the biotic and abiotic environment. Specific pathogens are being monitored directly in the field with qPCR and LAMP .

A Novel Framework for Predicting Emerging Chemical Stressor Impacts in Complex Ecosystems

Our overarching objective is to develop a new means of assessing how chemical stressors affect freshwater ecosystems and how this will be modulated by climate change.

Teaching and supervision

Current teaching responsibilities

  • Marine Ecology (BS112)

  • Computational Data Analysis: R for Life Sciences (BS231)

  • Medical Microbiology (BS235)

  • Molecular Ecology (BS240)

  • Professional skills for Ecological and Marine Scientists (BS257)

  • Research Project in Life Sciences (BS832)


Journal articles (16)

Ferguson, RMW., Neath, CEE., Nasir, ZA., Garcia-Alcega, S., Tyrrel, S., Coulon, F., Dumbrell, AJ., Colbeck, I. and Whitby, C., (2021). Size fractionation of bioaerosol emissions from green-waste composting. Environment International. 147, 106327-106327

Ferguson, RMW., O'Gorman, EJ., McElroy, DJ., McKew, BA., Coleman, RA., Emmerson, MC. and Dumbrell, AJ., (2021). The Ecological Impacts of Multiple Environmental Stressors on Coastal Biofilm Bacteria.. Global Change Biology. 27 (13), 3166-3178

Saha, M., Ferguson, RMW., Dove, S., Kuenzel, S., Meichßner, R., Neulinger, SC., Petersen, FO. and Weinberger, F., (2020). Salinity and time can alter epibacterial communities of an invasive seaweed. Frontiers in Microbiology. 10, 2870-

Garcia-Alcega, S., Nasir, ZA., Cipullo, S., Ferguson, RMW., Yan, C., Whitby, C., Dumbrell, AJ., Drew, G., Colbeck, I., Tyrrel, S. and Coulon, F., (2020). Fingerprinting ambient air to understand bioaerosol profiles in three different environments in the south east of England.. Science of the Total Environment. 719, 137542-137542

Ferguson, RMW., Garcia-Alcega, S., Coulon, F., Dumbrell, AJ., Whitby, C. and Colbeck, I., (2019). Bioaerosol Biomonitoring: Sampling Optimisation for Molecular Microbial Ecology. Molecular Ecology Resources. 19 (3), 672-690

Ferguson, RMW., Coulon, F. and Villa, R., (2018). Understanding microbial ecology can help improve biogas production in AD. Science of the Total Environment. 642, 754-763

Clark, DR., Ferguson, RMW., Harris, DN., Matthews Nicholass, KJ., Prentice, HJ., Randall, KC., Randell, L., Warren, SL. and Dumbrell, AJ., (2018). Streams of data from drops of water: 21st century molecular microbial ecology. WIREs Water. 5 (4)

Garcia-Alcega, S., Nasir, ZA., Ferguson, RMW., Noël, C., Cravo-Laureau, C., Whitby, C., Dumbrell, AJ., Colbeck, I., Tyrrel, S. and Coulon, F., (2018). Can chemical and molecular biomarkers help discriminate between industrial, rural and urban environments?. Science of the Total Environment. 631–632, 1059-1069

Garcia-Alcega, S., Nasir, Z., Ferguson, RMW., Whitby, C., Dumbrell, AJ., Colbeck, I., Gomes, D., Tyrrel, S. and Coulon, F., (2017). Fingerprinting outdoor air environment using microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs) – A review. TrAC - Trends in Analytical Chemistry. 86, 75-83

Dumbrell, ALEXJ., Ferguson, RMW. and Clark, DR., (2017). Microbial Community Analysis by Single-Amplicon High-Throughput Next Generation Sequencing: Data Analysis – From Raw Output to Ecology. Hydrocarbon and Lipid Microbiology Protocols. Microbial Quantitation, Community Profiling and Array Approaches, 155-206

Ferguson, RMW., Gontikaki, E., Anderson, JA. and Witte, U., (2017). The variable influence of dispersant on degradation of oil hydrocarbons in subarctic deep-sea sediments at low temperatures (0-5 °C). Scientific Reports. 7 (1), 2253-

Eduok, S., Ferguson, RMW., Jefferson, B., Villa, R. and Coulon, F., (2017). Aged-engineered nanoparticles effect on sludge anaerobic digestion performance and associated microbial communities.. Science of the Total Environment. 609, 232-241

Ferguson, RMW., Coulon, F. and Villa, R., (2016). Organic loading rate: A promising microbial management tool in anaerobic digestion. Water Research. 100, 348-356

Eduok, S., Hendry, C., Ferguson, RMW., Martin, B., Villa, R., Jefferson, B. and Coulon, F., (2015). Insights into the effect of mixed engineered nanoparticles on activated sludge performance. FEMS Microbiology Ecology. 91 (7), fiv082-fiv082

Ferguson, RMW., Villa, R. and Coulon, F., (2014). Bioengineering options and strategies for the optimization of anaerobic digestion processes. Environmental Technology Reviews. 3 (1), 1-14

Ferguson, RMW., Merrifield, DL., Harper, GM., Rawling, MD., Mustafa, S., Picchietti, S., Balcázar, JL. and Davies, SJ., (2010). The effect of Pediococcus acidilactici on the gut microbiota and immune status of on-growing red tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). Journal of Applied Microbiology. 109 (3), 851-862

Book chapters (2)

Bani, A., Randall, KC., Clark, DR., Gregson, BH., Henderson, DK., Losty, EC. and Ferguson, RMW., (2022). Mind the gaps: What do we know about how multiple chemical stressors impact freshwater aquatic microbiomes?. In: Functional Microbiomes. Editors: Bohan, DA. and Dumbrell, A., . Elsevier. 331- 377. 978-0-323-98593-2

Whitby, C., Ferguson, RMW., Colbeck, I., Dumbrell, AJ., Nasir, ZA., Marczylo, E., Kinnersley, R., Douglas, P., Drew, G., Bhui, K., Lemon, M., Jackson, S., Tyrrel, S. and Coulon, F., (2022). Compendium of analytical methods for sampling, characterization and quantification of bioaerosols. In: Functional Microbiomes. Editors: Bohan, DA. and Dumbrell, AJ., . Elsevier. 101- 229. 978-0-323-98593-2

Grants and funding


Airborne antimicrobial resistance: identifying the main environmental sources and health impacts

Academy of Medical Sciences

Identifying Determinants For Indoor Air Quality And Their Health Impact In Environments For Children: Measures To Improve Indoor Air Quality And Reduce Disease Burdens

European Commission

School and community engagement with tiny forests to enhance environmental and human health

North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group


Exploring how sources, behaviour and mitigation strategies influence Indoor Air Quality: A Pilot Study

University of York (Funder)

Determine the drivers of pathogen and AMR occurrence in SSA water-harvesting systems to inform the design of interventions strategies

NERC Environmental Omics Facility (Funder)


The effect of compost bioaerosols on microbial soil ecosystem services in surrounding farmland

Applied Microbiology International (formerly SFAM)

NI: BioSkyNet: the first global network of bioaerosols researchers

Natural Environment Research Council


Using metagenomics for fine-scale resolution of pathogen functional and phylogenetic diversity in farm bioaerosols

The Aerosol Society


Characterisation of bioaerosol bacterial communities in different size factions from urban, industrial and agricultural environments

The Aerosol Society

+44 (0) 1206 872552


3SW.3.18, Colchester Campus