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Coevolution of host resistance with multiple parasites:experiment & theory

Project Description

Infectious diseases have major impacts on human health,
agriculture and natural systems, causing immeasurable personal
and societal harm alongside considerable economic costs. How
can we reduce the risk of diseases caused by infectious
parasites, especially now that many are resistant to commonly
used antibiotics? One answer is to understand why parasites
evolve to harm their hosts (be virulent) in the first place. A wealth
of both experimental studies and theoretical models have been
devised to tackle this fundamental question. For ease, however,
they have largely considered systems where a host is infected
by a single parasite. This project is innovative in going beyond
simple single-parasite systems to consider how multiple
infections shape virulence evolution and incorporating this both
within a fully coevolutionary experimental system and novel
mathematical models.
Parasites need to transmit to survive, and they buy transmission
at the expense of damaging their host as they grow inside them:
if they grow too much, they kill their host before they can
transmit; but if they don’t grow enough, they are out-competed
by faster growing parasites. It is not just other infections that the
parasites have to compete with: hosts evolve resistance,
potentially creating a host-parasite arms-race. Importantly, there
are also feedbacks between ecology and evolution, since
selection on hosts is driven by how much infection is present in
the population at any time, which is itself shaped by the current
level of host defence. A particular question of this project is how
the host may multi-task to combat multiple infections, as well as
the effect of trade-offs in the parasites between overcoming the
host defences and outcompeting the other infection.
In this project, the student will undertake both mathematical
modelling (with Dr Best at Sheffield) and laboratory experiments
(with Dr Leggett at Cambridge). The models will be used to
make predictions that can be tested experimentally, and the
experimental results then understood in light of the models. This
is a genuinely interdisciplinary project. This PhD would be
suitable both for a biologist with an interest in developing
mathematical skills, and for an applied mathematician attracted
to conducting lab work. The student will receive step-by-step
training in their less familiar discipline. The key requirement is a
student who is highly motivated to develop a suite of
interdisciplinary skills to investigate this important biological
problem. Flexibility to spend time at both Sheffield and
Cambridge would be needed.

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (£15,009 per annum for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.
This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment View Website. ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York, CEH, and NHM.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place in the w/c 10th February 2020.

How good is research at University of Sheffield in Mathematical Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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