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Exploring methods to treat virus infection in honey bees using in vitro and in vivo systems

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Giles Budge
    Dr L Bell-Sakyi
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Insects make an essential contribution to the pollination of crops and wild plants. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are an excellent generalist insect pollinator offering a mobile pollination service to complement pollination by wild species. Global honey bee colony losses have been rising in recent years. Whilst the causes of the bee health crisis are multifactorial, there is growing realisation of the impact of viral pathogens.

Cell lines are powerful tools for the study of insect and tick viruses clarifying host range, identifying novel treatments, reducing animal usage and investigating virus virulence. The Tick Cell Biobank is currently developing novel hymenopteran cell lines that will be available to the student. This work will complement BBSRC research focusing on emerging honey bee viruses, BBSRC-funded work to establish insect cell lines, and work funded by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to help develop tools for the development of future honey bee medicines.

The student will investigate the mechanisms of host response to virus challenge across three research areas. First, the student will characterise endogenous viruses (EV) present in selected arthropod cell lines using established protocols. The student will then contrast the ability of these EV to modulate the host cell response to challenge by different virus families, to determine the role of EV in cellular mechanisms of innate immunity. Second, the student will investigate antiviral treatments for bees using cell culture systems coupled with traditional bee ecotoxicology studies to determine the effective safe concentrations of antiviral compounds. The student will determine how treatment can impact virus transmission and model the likely epidemiological outcomes of treatment. Finally, the student will investigate how honey bee progeny respond to virus challenge given the historic virus exposure of their queen.

Whom are we looking for? The project is suitable for a Biologist, Entomologist or Virologist with an interest in obtaining a range of skills from cell culture, molecular biology through to handling live insects i.e both in vitro and in vivo systems. As a CASE studentship with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, this studentship will particularly attract scientists who are interested in solving applied problems. We will train the student in a range of transferable skills including cell culture, microscopy, RNAi gene knockdown, quantitative RT-PCR, targeted and non-targeted sequencing, statistics, modelling and coding in R. We will also encourage the student to interact with potential beneficiaries of the work including beekeepers and those who form bee health policy.


Applications should be made by emailing [Email Address Removed] with a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees), and a covering letter – clearly stating your first choice project, and optionally 2nd and 3rd ranked projects, as well as including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project(s) and at the selected University. Applications not meeting these criteria will be rejected.
In addition to the CV and covering letter, please email a completed copy of the Additional Details Form (Word document) to [Email Address Removed]. A blank copy of this form can be found at:
Informal enquiries may be made to [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year BBSRC CASE studentship under the Newcastle-Liverpool-Durham DTP. The successful applicant will receive research costs, tuition fees and stipend (£15,009 for 2019-20). The PhD will start in October 2020. Applicants should have, or be expecting to receive, a 2.1 Hons degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. EU candidates must have been resident in the UK for 3 years in order to receive full support. Please note, there are 2 stages to the application process.


In revision Chronic bee paralysis: A serious emerging threat to honey bees. Nature Communications

2015 Pathogens as predictors of honey bee colony strength in England and Wales. PLoS ONE 10(7):e0133228

2012 Global honey bee viral landscape altered by a parasitic mite. Science 336(6086):1304-6

2018 The Tick Cell Biobank: a global resource for in vitro research on ticks, other arthropods and the pathogens they transmit. Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases 9, 1364-1371

2016 Virus discovery using tick cell lines. Evolutionary Bioinformatics 12 (S2), 31-34

2016 Transcriptome analysis of the synganglion from the honey bee mite, Varroa destructor and RNAi knockdown of neural peptide targets. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 70:116-26

2015 Ixodes scapularis and Ixodes ricinus tick cell lines respond to infection with tick-borne encephalitis virus: transcriptomic and proteomic analysis. Parasites & Vectors 8, 599

2014 Modelling the spread of American foulbrood in honeybees. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 10 (88), 20130650

2014 Molecular epidemiology and population structure of the honey bee brood pathogen Melissococcus plutonius. ISME Journal 8(8):1588-97

2014 Induction and suppression of tick cell antiviral RNAi responses by tick-borne flaviviruses. Nucleic Acids Research 42, 9436-9446

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