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CEFAS: Development of a diagnostic tool for the identification of Vibrio vulnificus strains associated with disease.

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

About This PhD Project

Project Description

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences, in partnership with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), are inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in September 2016 (or as soon as possible thereafter). For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of £14,198 for 3.5 years. The student would be based in Biosciences in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter.

Academic Supervisors:

Dr Stephen Michell, University of Exeter
Dr Sariqa Wagley, University of Exeter
Dr Craig Baker-Austin, Cefas

Project Description:

Vibrio vulnificus is a marine bacterium that is concentrated in bivalve shellfish species and as such is major cause of seafood-related gastroenteritis. This pathogen carries the highest mortality rate of any foodborne pathogen (~50%), and infections are increasing globally. Currently there is no reliable marker to distinguish those strains of V. vulnificus that are associated with disease from those that occupy an environmental niche. A recent report indicates that pathogenic Vibrio species pose one of the greatest risks to public health in the European Union in the coming years due to the strength of the disease’s link to climate change1. Testing of oysters and mussels for the presence of V. vulnificus strains that have a high virulence potential would be of considerable benefit to seafood safety. Strategies for reducing the abundance of this pathogen in seafood matrices have become increasingly important in the last decade, with clear commercial applications.

Preliminary work on isolates from both the environment and from patients led to the identification of novel type 6 secretion systems (T6SS) within V. vulnificus. The T6SS is of interest in microbial ecology as it has been shown to be involved in inter- and intra-species killing as well as being a virulence factor. We have already employed cutting edge mutational analysis to confirm the role of these T6SSs in shaping the ecological composition of Vibrio spp.This model, in addition to providing a plausible explanation for the currently low number of reported cases of V. vulnificus also provides a genetic basis for distinguishing between highly virulent and less virulent strains. This work was the result of a highly successful collaboration between the University of Exeter and Cefas.

We aim to develop the observation of differential distribution of T6SSs between apparent virulent and environmental isolates into a specific genetic diagnostic assay. The research that led us to these findings was based upon the whole genome sequencing of a panel of 60 isolates of V. vulnificus. This project has two main aims. Firstly, to further interrogate this genome database (hence utilising and exploiting an already funded resource) to identify additional genetic loci, to that of the T6SS, that can be incorporated into a diagnostic PCR. The student will look at developing a real time qPCR that can be employed directly on aquaculture samples such as mussels and oysters. The second part of the project will utilise an already developed oyster in vivo model to investigate the ecological significance of the T6SS in the actual host to complement our in vitro data.This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. For students who qualify to pay UK/EU tuition fees, the award will cover the tuition fees in full plus a tax-free stipend of £14,198 per year.

Entry requirements:

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

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