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Evolution Education Trust PhD project: Manipulation of host behaviour by horsehair worms

Department of Biology & Biochemistry

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Dr Vicky Hunt No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for this PhD opportunity based at the Milner Centre for Evolution, a unique, cross-faculty research centre bridging biology, health and education. The Centre is dedicated to a broad range of fundamental research questions relating to evolutionary biology; from in deep time to the micro-evolutionary dynamics of a disease outbreak. We have a strong focus on public engagement and outreach. We are located in a dedicated multi-million-pound building that opened on the University campus in September 2018. Visit our website: https://www.bath.ac.uk/research-centres/milner-centre-for-evolution/.

Supervisory Team:

Dr Vicky Hunt, Milner Centre for Evolution, Department of Biology & Biochemistry, https://researchportal.bath.ac.uk/en/persons/vicky-hunt (lead supervisor).
Dr Nicholas Priest, Milner Centre for Evolution, Department of Biology & Biochemistry.
Mrs Eileen Harris, Senior Curator - Parasitic Worms, Natural History Museum.

Project Overview:

Nematomorpha (also known as Gordian worms or horsehair worms) are a phylum of parasites that infect invertebrates. To develop into adults and find a mate, the nematomorph worms must move from their host to an aquatic environment. They achieve this by manipulating the behaviour of the host, causing it to jump into water. We know very little about the mechanisms that parasites have evolved to manipulate host behaviour, particularly at a genetic and molecular level. No genome has ever been published for a member of this phylum and we only have limited knowledge about the distribution of nematomorphs within the UK.

There are two main objectives of this project:

(i) Identify the molecular toolkit used by nematomorph parasites to infect their host. We will culture nematomorphs in the laboratory. We will isolate secretions from the parasites and identify proteins (using mass spectrometry) and non-coding RNA (using RNAseq) important at different lifecycle stages. Secretory products isolated at the insect-parasitic lifecycle stage will be further investigated and used together with behavioural assays of insects to assess the ability of these secretions to manipulate host behaviour.

(ii) Investigate the diversity of nematomorphs in the UK. We will collect samples of nematomorphs from aquatic environments and invertebrates at different locations around the UK. We will sequence the genomes and transcriptomes of these samples, together with other samples collected abroad, and conduct phylogenetic and genomic analyses to understand the diversity and evolution of this genus including the conservation of genes involved in host manipulation.


Applicants should have an excellent academic record and hold, or expect to obtain, a First Class or high Upper Second Class UK Honours degree (or the equivalent) in a relevant subject. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Enquiries and Applications:

All enquiries should be addressed to Dr Vicky Hunt, [Email Address Removed].

** Candidates are strongly encouraged to discuss projects directly with the lead supervisor before submitting an application.**

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biology:

On the application form, please ensure that you quote ‘Evolution Education Trust’ in the Finance section and the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section. Should you wish to be considered for more than one project, quote the projects in order of preference and upload a separate personal statement relevant to each one.

It is essential that your application is complete when you submit it to us. Incomplete applications cannot be considered. You should ensure that you have completed all fields on the application form and supplied the contact details of TWO referees who are available and willing to provide us with a reference when requested (one must be from your most recent place of study). In addition, you should ensure that you have uploaded the following documents:
• a scanned copy of the certificate/s for any degree/s you have been awarded;
• a scanned copy of your degree transcript/s or your interim transcript if you are still studying;
• an up-to-date CV;
• a personal statement explaining your motivation for wishing to study a PhD and your interest in the specific project for which you are applying;
• English language test certificate (if available) for EU candidates.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here:

Interviews will take place in Bath on Friday 3 April 2020.

Anticipated start date: 28 September 2020.

Unfortunately, we are NOT able to consider international applicants for this project.

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project will be considered for a 3.5-year Evolution Education Trust Studentship which will cover UK/EU tuition fees, a tax-free maintenance allowance at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£15,009 for 2019/20) and a generous budget for research, training and outreach expenses.

Note: Only UK and EU applicants are eligible for studentship funding.


N Kanzaki, I J. Tsai, R Tanaka, V L. Hunt, et al (2008). Biology and genome of a newly discovered sibling species of Caenorhabditis elegans. Nature Communications: 9: 3216 (2018).

V L Hunt, et al (2018). Comparative transcriptomics gives insights into the evolution of parasitism in Strongyloides nematodes at the genus, subclade and species level. Scientific Reports,8: 5192.

V L Hunt, et al (2016). The genomic basis of parasitism in the Strongyloides clade of nematodes. Nature Genetics,48: 299-307.
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