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Detection of honeybee diseases through monitoring shifts in volatile profiles

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, October 31, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Project Description:

Over recent years, honeybees have been suffering a near catastrophic decline in numbers, including the complete collapse of many colonies. Several influencing factors (including parasites and diseases, the use of pesticides, and large scale single crop “monoculture” agriculture) are likely to be responsible for the observed decreasing trend in honey bee numbers.

Diseases are still an important factor, and outbreaks of European Foul Brood are on the rise, with numerous strains currently being detected throughout the UK. Whilst the diagnostic tools are all appropriate, they are re-active in nature, and usually applied as confirmatory tools after colonies become symptomatic. Better control of disease transmission could be achieved if earlier (pro-active) detection was possible.

Within human medicine, there has recently been a surge in research aimed at developing diagnostic tests for cancers via analysis of exhaled breath. Initial studies, analysing the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in breath, have been able to detect various cancers through either the identification of specific marker compounds, or through quantifiable differences in the profiles of VOCs between healthy and diseased individuals.

This proposed research will focus on improving our ability to detect diseases within colonies, ultimately through developing sensors triggered by shifts in the volatile profiles of diseased colonies; achieved by interrogating the data rich profiles of diseased and non-diseased colonies. Shifts may be characterised by the presence of additional marker compound(s) or quantifiable changes in the abundance of characteristic compounds.

This project aims to exploit these VOC’s, present within colonies, to develop new sensors for earlier disease detection. This could facilitate more efficient treatment and control measures, slowing the future spread of diseases.

Main objectives of this study

1) Establish a protocol for efficient collection of volatiles in a beehive.

2) Establish the natural variation in colony profiles.

3) Identification of (bio)marker compounds signifying the presence of either Varroa mite or EFB in a bee colony.

4) Validation of the sampling protocol


Please quote FNS GS 2019-22 on your application.

Funding Notes

Funding support provided as follows:

100% UK/EU tuition fees for 3 years commencing Academic year 2019/2020 (UK/EU fees are £4,327 per annum for 2019/20).

Stipend support for three years at UKRI rates (2019/20 stipend £15,009 per annum).

Source of funding: Faculty of Natural Sciences, Keele University

Overseas students are eligible to apply, but must pay the difference in home/EU fees (£4,327 per annum) and overseas fees (£21,740 per annum)

Minimum of BSc (2:1 or higher) in Chemical Sciences or equivalent discipline, with strong preference for candidates with experience of chromatography and mass spectrometry. Experience in working with insects is desirable.

Related Subjects

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