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CEFAS: Oomycete pathogens of fish in aquaculture: identification of virulence factors and potential strategies for disease mitigation

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  • Full or part time
    Dr M van der Giezen
  • 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 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. Certain aspects of the work will be undertaken at Cefas.

Academic Supervisors:

Dr Mark van der Giezen, University of Exeter
Dr David Studholme, University of Exeter
Dr Birgit Oidtmann, Cefas

Project Description:

Oomycetes are a group of superficially fungus-like protists best known as agents of devastating plant diseases such as late blight of potato and sudden oak death. However, at least two species of oomycetes have independently emerged as highly successful pathogens of finfish in aquaculture. Saprolegnia parasitica is responsible for very high levels of mortality in farmed salmon in the UK and elsewhere. Aphanomyces invadans is responsible for the OIE notifiable disease epizootic ulcerative syndrome (EUS), which is spreading geographically and is already well established in Asia and Africa. The ranges of fish species susceptible to the two pathogens are large and overlapping but not identical. Both pathogens not only affect farmed fish but also natural populations. The mechanisms by which these pathogens infect and penetrate fish tissues is not known, though the recently published genome sequence of S. parasitica has yielded some clues, but information for A. invadans is currently lacking. Furthermore, very little is known about the molecular basis for host susceptibility versus resistance. As these two oomycetes have developed into very effective fish pathogens, we hypothesise that they use similar strategies for overcoming host defences. The overall objective of this project is to identify infection strategies and the host’s responses to infection of these two oomycete fish pathogens. The S. parasitica genome has recently become available.

Furthermore, we have recently generated whole-genome sequences for many A. invadans isolates and several closely related strains that are not pathogenic to finfish, providing the opportunity to identify candidate genes by comparative genomics. Due to the fact that both oomycetes have evolved into highly effective pathogens of fish, we want to explore commonalities between these parasites. The selected student will investigate virulence factors of these oomycete pathogens and host response to infections. The ultimate goal is to exploit this knowledge to protect aquaculture and reduce the impacts of these pathogens and potentially newly emerging oomycete pathogens of fish.

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 for 3.5 years.

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. Ideal candidates would have experience in molecular (fish) parasitology.
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

How to apply

Please be aware you will be asked to upload the following documents:
• CV
• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project)
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying).
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.
The closing date for applications is midnight on Sunday, 31 January 2016. Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Streatham Campus on Tuesday, 9 February 2016.
If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email [Email Address Removed] or phone +44 (0)1392 725150/723706. Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

How good is research at University of Exeter in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 54.58

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