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EASTBIO Exploring the genetic determination of aggressive behaviour in adult female pigs to improve human safety and animal welfare

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  Dr Rick D'Eath, Dr S Turner, Prof R Roehe, Dr A Wilson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Project Description for Find-A-PhD Advert (max 400 words). This will be the text that is advertised to prospective students:

This PhD project will explore the genetic determination of aggressive behaviour in adult female pigs (sows). Sows express aggression towards humans, piglets and other sows. Aggression risks human injury, reduces the welfare of recipient animals and likely reflects poor welfare of the aggressive sow herself.

Globally, modern genotypes of sows are becoming increasingly aggressive, especially towards humans. Aggressive behaviour by sows has been poorly studied. Selective breeding can lead to cumulative and permanent improvements in behaviour and there is a pressing need to quantify the inter-relationships between sow aggressive behaviour performed in different contexts and estimate the genetic basis to these behaviours. We also seek to confirm evidence that less aggressive sows produce more viable piglets as this would deliver further welfare, economic and sustainability benefits from reducing sow aggression.

The project will partner with SUISAG, the Swiss national pig breeding organisation. SUISAG wishes to maintain and improve Switzerland’s high standards of pig welfare by creating a selection strategy to reduce and optimise sow aggressive behaviour across contexts, improving farmer safety and pig welfare. We aim to (1) develop validated methods to record sow aggression and estimate the associated heritability; (2) quantify the genetic correlations between different aggressive behaviour traits, and hence how improving one form of aggression will impact others; and (3) quantify the impacts of reducing aggression on reproductive and piglet welfare traits.

The student will be registered at the University of Edinburgh, based at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC; Edinburgh, UK) and undertake two placements of 3-9 months duration each with SUISAG in Switzerland with desk-based and on-farm elements. The student will join the Animal Behaviour and Welfare Team at SRUC; one of the largest groups of its kind with 15 academic staff and 17 PhD students. They will also become part of the research and development team within SUISAG. The student will gain training opportunities in experimental and project management, business development and communication to academic and non-academic audiences.

This multidisciplinary animal science project combines animal behaviour, welfare, quantitative genetic analysis and applied animal breeding. The supervisory team brings the necessary expertise in each of these fields and will support the student in the development of academic skills within each discipline. The combination of academic training in breeding applied to behaviour and welfare and exposure to a progressive breeding company, is expected to be highly attractive to future employers. 

Application Process:

Please visit this page for full application instructions

1)     Download and complete the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion survey.

2)     Download and complete the EASTBIO Application Form.

3)     Submit both to SRUC, [Email Address Removed].

Completed applications must include the following documents:

-         Completed EASTBIO application form

-         2 References (to be completed on the EASTBIO Reference Form, also found on the EASTBIO website)

-         Academic Qualifications

-         Equality, Diversity and Inclusion survey

Unfortunately due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications. Please make sure your application is complete by the 16th December 2021. Please ask your referees to submit your references directly to [Email Address Removed].

We anticipate that our first set of interviews will be held 7th – 11th February 2022 with awards made in the following week.

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership.
This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend and UK level tuition (limited funding is available to provide international tuition fees). Please refer to UKRI website and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria.

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