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(BBSRC DTP CASE) Equine gut health: identifying behavioural, physiological and microbiome biomarkers associated with ulcers and inflammation in horse populations

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

About the Project

In managed horses (and other equids), disorders associated with inflammation in the equine gastrointestinal (GI) tract, including gastric ulcers, high parasite burdens and enteritis/colitis are widespread health and welfare issues. We currently do not know how prevalent these issues are in free-ranging populations. This project will use a combination of stress and inflammatory markers, parasite and microbiome analyses to compare gastrointestinal health in both intensively managed and free-ranging horse populations. This information can be used to guide management of horse GI systems and to understand how unmanaged horse guts respond to environmental and seasonal challenges.
Objectives: This project will use an integrated evaluation of risk factors and gut biomarkers to: 1) validate and further develop the application of gut inflammation markers and microbiome community changes with clinically confirmed pathologies, and 2) apply the biomarkers validated in (1) to characterise variation in gastrointestinal inflammation in managed and free-ranging horses in response to parasites, stress, microbiome and diet.
Study design: The study is divided into two parts: A) The student will validate inflammatory and microbial biomarkers in horses with diagnosed acute GI inflammation (severe gastric ulceration, high parasite burdens and colitis). Horses will be monitored for changes in inflammation markers and microbiome from initial diagnosis through treatment and post recovery. B) The student will then monitor changes in inflammatory gut biomarkers across three populations: 1) intensively managed sport horses, 2) semi-intensively managed leisure horses, and 3) a population of free-ranging semi-feral ponies. For the free-ranging population, the student will conduct observational data and collect samples from the Carneddau mountain ponies in Snowdonia National Park. These ponies have been studied for over ten-years, and our previous has shown that: 1) that parasite loads are highly variable, 2) that cortisol and faecal oxidative stress respond to stressors, and 3) that microbiome community structure varies over time and space across the population.

Case Partner
Carol Hughes

External partners:
Debra Archer:
Rachael Antwis:

Entry Requirements:
Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

UK applicants interested in this project should make direct contact with the Primary Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. International applicants (including EU nationals) must ensure they meet the academic eligibility criteria (including English Language) as outlined before contacting potential supervisors to express an interest in their project. Eligibility can be checked via the University Country Specific information page (

If your country is not listed you must contact the Doctoral Academy Admissions Team providing a detailed CV (to include academic qualifications – stating degree classification(s) and dates awarded) and relevant transcripts.

Following the review of your qualifications and with support from potential supervisor(s), you will be informed whether you can submit a formal online application.

To be considered for this project you MUST submit a formal online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website

Funding Notes

This is a CASE studentship in partnership with Equibiome. Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend only. The University of Manchester aims to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK. We are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.

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