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Assessing virulence potential in domestically isolated Vibrio species – PhD (Funded)

Project Description


Dr Stephen Michell, University of Exeter
Dr Sariqa Wagley, University of Exeter
Dr Craig Baker-Austin, Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science
Professor Jaime Martinez-Urtaza, Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science


Biosciences, Streatham Campus, Exeter

The Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and the University of Exeter signed a Strategic Alliance in 2012. The Alliance aims to combine the complementary capabilities and perspectives of both organisations and formalised a long running existing collaboration between Cefas and the University. This Alliance was further strengthened in 2018 with the establishment of the centre for Sustainable Aquaculture Futures (see: A major component of the Alliance is to support joint PhD studentships. This project is one of five projects that are in competition for funding from the University of Exeter and Cefas.

For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £14,777 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study, and a research training support grant. The student would be based in Biosciences in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Project Description:

Eleven Vibrio species have been implicated as a cause of infection in humans while many others cause disease in marine animals. The global incidence of disease caused by human pathogenic Vibrios has been increasing worldwide due to increasing sea surface temperature and extreme weather events as a result of climate change. Vibrios are associated with food or water borne outbreaks often linked to the consumption or handling of raw or undercooked seafood. This project is key in assessing the risk to human health presented by pathogenic Vibrio species. Studies carried out by Cefas in 2018 including a recent analysis of low salinity estuarine systems in Southern England, demonstrate that pathogenic Vibrios are present in water and shellfish during summer months, often in very high concentrations. This data augments previous studies carried out during 2012-2013 which identified potentially pathogenic strains in two sites along the Southern coast of the UK.

This PhD project will determine the virulence potential of these novel Vibrio strains isolated during the summer of 2018. Whole genome sequencing will be applied to isolates carrying the most relevant and interesting virulence genes, which have already been ascertained by conventional PCR. This genomic data will be correlated with a panel of phenotypic assays to assess the in vitro toxicity of these isolates and their ability to cause disease in an insect infection model called Galleria mellonella. The candidate will identify putative virulence genes from whole genome sequencing data and using mutagenesis techniques developed at Exeter University to help elucidate the role these genes have in virulence. All of the supervisors of this project have published on the genomics and virulence of Vibrio species and are experienced researchers in this field. This project will provide the student with a broad range cutting-edge techniques for studying bacterial pathogenesis. The supervisory team also work closely with collaborators in the US and Europe, potentially providing the opportunity for a secondment at an international laboratory.

Funding Notes

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project. Alternative tests may be acceptable (see View Website).

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