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EASTBIO: Next-generation technologies for the biosurveillance of marine invasive species.


   School of Biological Sciences

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  Prof S Piertney, Dr A Douglas  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Invasive species are one of the biggest causes of global biodiversity loss and species extinction, represent a major threat to food security and livelihoods, and are a potent vector in the emergence and spread of wildlife, livestock and human diseases.

Habitat biosurveillance for the early detection of invasive species is increasingly recognised as a priority for effective environmental stewardship and embedded within environmental management and conservation action plans. However, such robust, quantifiable biodiversity assessments can be challenging, especially in marine habitats given the taxonomically cryptic nature of the species involved and inherent difficulties of active monitoring.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) present in water and sediment provides emerging opportunities as a monitoring tool for species detection in marine ecosystems. Several approaches for eDNA-mediated species metabarcoding are available and routinely used in environmental assessment. A limitation for each of these approaches has been the need for specialist instrumentation within dedicated laboratories, which incurs both time and cost and prevents adoption as a early warning approach to biosurveillance.

Lateral flow assays (LFA) are commonly used as point-of-care diagnostics for human and veterinary health, and their utility and efficacy has been highlighted through the Covid-19 pandemic. LFA have seen very limited use in an environmental context, despite offering portability, low operational cost and user-friendly operation and the potential to provide a transformative technology in invasive species management.

This PhD will develop LFA for key marine invasive species recognised as a threat to native fauna in marine protected areas and the aquaculture industry. The project will be structured around four areas:

  1. Development of LFA dipsticks to detect DNA barcodes from eDNA extracts for the tunicate Didemnum vexillum, wireweed Sargassum muticum, Chinese mitten crab Eriocheir sinensis and slipper limpet Crepidula fornicata.
  2. Development of isothermal PCR approaches to optimise workflows and reduce costs in routine environmental screening.
  3. Comparison of LFA for species detection with alternative approaches available for portable and rapid assessment of target species (e.g ONT Flongle)
  4. Development of a high-resolution LFA that exploits within-species single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) variation to infer the geographical provenance of invasive incursion.

The student will gain valuable training and experience in genetic and molecular biology techniques, bioinformatics and molecular ecology plus get privileged insight into how molecular approaches can be used in an applied context through interaction with project partners and stake-holders as they develop and implement policy and practice for environmental stewardship. The project would suit a student with a background in marine biology and molecular ecology, with experience in the use of molecular markers and confidence in using programming languages such as R and Python.

It may be possible to undertake this project part-time, in discussion with the lead supervisor.

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Application Procedure:

Please visit this page for full application information: BBSRC EASTBIO Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship | The School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition | The University of Aberdeen (abdn.ac.uk)

Please send your completed EASTBIO application form, along with academic transcripts to Alison Innes at [Email Address Removed]

Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form.

Please advise your referees to return the reference form to [Email Address Removed]


Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership.
This opportunity is open to home/UK candidates (including EU nationals that hold UK settled or pre-settled status) and provides funding to cover a stipend and tuition fees. Please refer to UKRI website and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria.
Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2:1 UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in a relevant subject.
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