Infestation of laying hen houses with poultry red mites (Dermanyssus gallinae) causes major animal welfare and economic problems for the egg-producing industry worldwide, costing in excess of €231 million per year in the European Union alone in control and production losses. Demand for novel methods of control is driven by the inadequacy of many current chemotherapeutic control methods, which results in uncontrolled infestations, substantial welfare issues and commercial losses. New methods of control require a fuller understanding of the parasite’s physiology and the host-parasite relationship. To this end, we recently created a draft genome of D. gallinae, initiated gene knockdown (RNAi) studies and developed a novel feeding device for the mites.
Blood-feeding parasites need to efficiently lyse and catabolise red blood cells as part of their nutrition and this involves a cascade of haemolytic and proteolytic factors to liberate nutrients. However, this also results in the production of potentially toxic heme from haemoglobin and requires specific handling processes to reduce its toxicity. Could this be the poultry mite’s Achilles’ Heel that may lead to a novel control approach?
The studentship will explore blood digestion in the mite by using transcriptome- and genome-guided RNAi to suppress elements of the digestive cascade and will investigate how the mite handles heme to better understand these fundamental processes in mite nutrition. The student will be trained in bioinformatic interrogation of the D. gallinae genome and transcriptome to identify genes involved in blood digestion and heme detoxification and will then use a combination of gene silencing and electron microscopy to investigate the critical elements of the food digestion processes of the mites.
This fully-funded studentship will be based in Edinburgh within a dynamic, vibrant and supportive research group at the world-renowned Moredun Research Institute and will also have the opportunity to perform studies at the University of Aberdeen.
Moredun Research Institute is based in the Edinburgh Science Triangle and are leaders in animal health and welfare, being independently ranked as one of the top ten animal research institutes worldwide. The project will provide training and hands-on practice in cutting-edge next-generation bioinformatics, genomics and transcriptomics, modern molecular biology and parasitology within the framework of a real-world, economically relevant challenge.
Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with other degree qualifications may be considered provided they have a Merit/Commendation/Distinction at Masters level.