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EASTBIO: Impacts of larger litter sizes in pigs on brain and behavioural development

College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

About the Project

Pigs exhibit the most severe naturally occurring intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) among livestock species where there is impaired growth and development of the embryo/fetus or its organs during pregnancy. IUGR has been exacerbated by artificial selection pressure for very large litter sizes to improve productivity further impacting on the growth, development and survival of fetuses. IUGR piglets that survive to term are known to have impaired physical functions including their growth, reproduction and stress reactivity. Recent evidence in pigs suggests that extreme IUGR can also have significant effects on the inflammatory state of the brain with implications for neuropathology in affected animals. Work in rodents and pigs suggests that bio-factors present in the milk of mothers of larger litters may further adversely modulate their offspring’s brain and behavioural development. This project aims to better understand these impacts and the pathways that lead to them, in order to develop and test strategies to rescue piglets born with varying degrees of IUGR status, thus improving their welfare and their production value.

The studentship will address the sustainability of pig production by assessing the impacts of breeding for increased litter size to increase productivity, on the physical and mental well-being of the developing pig. It will provide important new information on the impacts of larger litter sizes on pig welfare and productivity to inform both future policy and practice. Applying an interdisciplinary mix of bioscience skills will assess the impacts of larger litters on neuroinflammation, neurodevelopment and behavioural phenotypes in the pig. This interdisciplinarity will be achieved by the cross-institutional partnership between Roslin (University of Edinburgh) and SRUC. SRUC is renowned for its work on sow and piglet behaviour and welfare whilst Roslin is a world leader in bioscience applied to large animals. In addition, the project will benefit from wider collaborations with industry and other academic partners.

This studentship will provide an excellent training in behavioural neuroscience applied to a large animal. The work will require training in laboratory skills relating to assessment of neuroinflammation, neuro- and behavioural development in the young pig. The supervisory team offers a wide range of expertise including laboratory and on-farm experience and we emphasise a 3Rs approach in our research. The student will be trained in non-invasive techniques, participate in refining data collection and will have opportunities to work in high-welfare systems for pigs. The area of work has both considerable scientific novelty but is also practically relevant and the student will be trained in how best to communicate outcomes to different audiences. Our industry and academic networks will offer many opportunities for knowledge transfer and exchange including access to relevant on-campus and online resources.

Funding information and application procedures:
This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) .

EASTBIO Application and Reference Forms can be downloaded via

Please send your completed EASTBIO Application Form along with a copy of your academic transcripts to

You should also ensure that two references have been send to by the deadline using the EASTBIO Reference Form.

Funding Notes

This opportunity is open to UK and international students and provides funding covering stipend and UK level tuition fees. The University of Edinburgh covers the difference between home and international fees meaning that the EASTBIO DTP offers fully-funded studentships to all appointees. There is a cap on the number of international students the DTP recruits. It is important that we know from the outset which fees status category applicants fall under when applying to our university.

Please refer to UKRI (View Website ing-people-and-skills/find-studentships-and-doctoral-training/get-a-studentship-to-fund-your-doctorate/) and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria (View Website).

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