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(BBSRC DTP CASE) Surface modification of materials for control of beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) in a wild population of endangered parakeets

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  • Full or part time
    Dr S Jones
    Dr S Edmondson
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The Echo Parakeet (Psittacula eques) was once common in Mauritius but by the 1980s the population had dropped to ~20 individuals. After intensive management the population had begun to recover, until in 2005 a severe outbreak of beak and feather disease virus (BFDV) threatened the conservation efforts. BFDV is a circovirus that affects all Old World and New World parrots that can lead to psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD) and is currently untreatable. Intensively studied populations, such as the Echo parakeet, are accompanied by long-term and detailed data on individual animals leading to a unique and extensive sample set, which can be used to design potential treatments.

A new class of broad-spectrum antivirals has been developed that offers unique potential for the development of antiviral materials and coatings. Applying these new antiviral materials in different scenarios and against multiple viruses is vital for proof-of-concept development. Although valuable progress can be made using in-vitro assays, studies performed in natural systems, where host-pathogen dynamics are shaped by environmental factors, are often more informative. These model systems present unique challenges. Therefore ‘natural laboratories’, where certain conditions can be manipulated within a closely monitored host population, can provide rare but essential opportunities for optimisation.

In this project you will design and synthesise antivirals that are effective against BFDV and test these on samples collected from a wild population of the Echo parakeet. You will then deploy these materials in a natural laboratory for field trials to study the in-situ effects of such materials.

Laboratory optimisation: Building on existing understanding of broad-spectrum antivirals in the Jones lab, the design and synthesis of novel antivirals for BFDV will be undertaken. The materials will be fully characterised before being tested against samples taken from wild parakeets to investigate the antiviral properties.

Field evaluation: Once developed, these materials will be evaluated by using a range of simple experiments that involve applying virucides to surfaces that are known to accumulate virus such as supplemental feeding stations and nest-boxes. Virus presence will be confirmed using quantitative PCR from environmental swabs using carefully controlled experiments.

Due to the highly interdisciplinary nature of this project, students with a wide range of backgrounds will be considered however active participation in synthesis and characterisation as well as biological testing will be needed. The successful applicant will also need to design and implement field trials to test the end use of the synthesised materials.

Entry Requirements:
Applications are invited from UK/EU nationals only. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

Funding Notes

This project is to be funded under the BBSRC Doctoral Training Programme. If you are interested in this project, please make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. You MUST also submit an online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


Cagno, V., Jones, S.T., et al., 2018. Broad-spectrum non-toxic antiviral nanoparticles with a virucidal inhibition mechanism. Nature materials, 17(2), p.195.

Kundu, Groombridge, et al., 2012. Tracking viral evolution during a disease outbreak: the rapid and complete selective sweep of a circovirus in the endangered Echo parakeet. Journal of Virology, pp.JVI-06504.

Tollington, S., et al., 2015. Detailed monitoring of a small but recovering population reveals sublethal effects of disease and unexpected interactions with supplemental feeding. Journal of Animal Ecology, 84(4), pp.969-977.

Tollington, S., et al., 2018. Individual consumption of supplemental food as a predictor of reproductive performance and viral infection intensity. Journal of Applied Ecology.

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