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Controlling parasitic varroa mites and viral disease in honey bee hives using immunotherapy

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Prof P Lester  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

One of the greatest threats and costs for the honey bee industry is the parasitic varroa mite and the viral diseases the parasite spreads. Varroa and the Deformed wing virus are a leading cause of hive mortality globally. Our research focuses on developing a safe, effective, and commercially viable control method for varroa and the Deformed wing virus. Our solution utilizes immunoglobulin Y antibodies (IgY), which are produced in birds, reptiles and amphibians. Our plan is to develop an IgY antibody treatment that can be given to bees via food; a delivery method that is safe and easily implemented by beekeepers.

We have developed antibodies against varroa and the Deformed wing virus. The PhD student for this project will have a role in testing the antibodies in individual bees and small hives within a laboratory setting. The student will determine the effects of antibody therapy on the varroa parasite’s reproduction and fitness. The person will examine if and how immunotherapy treatment enhances bee survival and influences markers of bee health. They will understand the effects of the frequency and rate of antibody delivery on DWV titres and varroa populations.

We would prefer candidates with experience with honey bees and ideally laboratory techniques such as PCR. You should not be allergic to honey bee stings.

This is a funded PhD project for 3 years. The scholarship will pay you a NZ$29,500 annual living allowance each year for 3 years. We will also pay for fees that will cover the cost of your tuition, which equates to NZ$10,220 per year for international and domestic students. Graduate students here typically supplement their scholarships with teaching assistant work. Students for Victoria University apply by 1 March, 1 July or 1 November, and start studying once you have a final Offer of Place. We want the successful candidate to be here in Wellington and to start the project in 2023.

You will be based in Wellington, New Zealand, and hosted by the School of Biological Sciences. Full information on the PhD programme here at Victoria University of Wellington is available at

For entry into our PhD programmes we require a research degree such as Honours or Master's by thesis from a New Zealand university with an average grade of B+ or higher, an approved international equivalent, or other approved evidence of adequate training and ability. For international applicants, if you have a four-year Bachelor's degree graded in a four point GPA system, you will need to have a GPA of at least 3.0 out of 4.0. The English language requirements for the university requires IELTS (Academic) with minimum overall score of 6.5 with no sub-score below 6.0; or, for the TOEFL a minimum score of 90 for the internet-based test with a minimum of 20 in writing. Further information on requirements from different countries are available at  

Preliminary applications can be sent by email directly to Prof Lester. Short-listed candidates will be notified, and interviews will be arranged. What to include in your preliminary application:

-       a cover letter outlining why you want the PhD position, and how you meet the applicant requirements (this is really important)

-       a full CV

-       a copy of your academic transcripts (unofficial transcripts are suitable for this purpose)

-        an example of your scientific writing

-       the names/contact details of two people who can act as academic references (there is no need to request any reference letters be sent at this initial stage)

-       A potential start date for the project

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