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Exploring the innate and adaptive immunity of Asian elephants towards elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses infection

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  • Full or part time
    Prof F Steinbach
    Dr Akbar Dastjerdi
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Herpesviruses are a large family of DNA viruses. Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesviruses (EEHVs) are classified in the genus Proboscivirus family Herpesviridae and fall into 7 genotypes. The EEHVs, and in particular EEHV-1, are the cause of an acute haemorrhagic disease in young Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) and account for a significant amount of fatalities in juvenile Asian elephants. Herd screenings have revealed a widespread prevalence of the viruses and their periodical reactivation and shedding.

It is been documented that EEHV viraemia is detectable days before clinical symptoms. However, no drug with proven efficacy is currently available and lack of progress on virus culture has so far made a conventional vaccine an uncertain and far reaching goal.

Immunological control of herpesviruses is achieved by both the innate and adaptive immune responses. In the innate antiviral immune response, anti-viral interferons (IFNs), macrophages and natural killer (NK) cells have key roles in the containment of herpesvirus infections, whereas the role of gamma/delta T cells remains unclear as is their existence and distribution in elephants. This PhD study therefore aims to assess key components of the Asian elephant’s immune system that could be used to control the infection. Specifically we want to characterise some interferon genes and determine NK and T cells responses to establish targets for a suitable vaccine and other control strategies.

The project will be carried out in collaboration with the Animal and Plant Health Agency ( and the successful candidate will be mainly working at their Weybridge labs.

Essential requirements:
• A BSc (Hons) degree in a relevant biological subject
• Strong interest or connection to wildlife species
• Team working
• Good oral and written communication skills
• Dedication and passion in advancing our understanding of elephant anti-viral immunity

Desirable requirements:
• A Master degree (or equivalent training) in Immunology or Microbiology

If English is not your first language please check the University of Surrey website ( for language and other requirements that have to be met prior to application.
Anticipated start date: March/April 2016.

Funding Notes

This studentship is fully funded and the fund covers the University of Surrey registration fee, doctoral stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum (£14,057 p.a. for 2015/16) and the bench fee. Due to funding constraints only UK/EU application can be considered. This is a full time PhD project which is planned for a period of three years.


Furuse Y, Dastjerdi A, Seilern-Moy K, Steinbach F, Cullen BR. (2014) 'Analysis of viral microRNA expression by elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus 1.'. Virology, United States: 454-455, pp. 102-108. doi: 10.1016/j.virol.2014.02.009

Wilkie GS, Davison AJ, Watson M, Kerr K, Sanderson S, Bouts T, Steinbach F, Dastjerdi A. (2013) 'Complete Genome Sequences of Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesviruses 1A and 1B Determined Directly from Fatal Cases'. JOURNAL OF VIROLOGY, 87 (12), pp. 6700-6712. doi: 10.1128/JVI.00655-13

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