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Exploring the role of vitamin transport in insect models of disease vector biology

   School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr Catriona Anderson, Prof Greg Hurst, Prof D Thwaites  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Vector-borne diseases of plants, livestock and humans are infections transmitted by arthropods (insects, arachnids) feeding on host plants or animals. These diseases have huge worldwide economic, social and health costs. Understanding the unique biology of vector species will inform our understanding of ecological dynamics, evolutionary processes and, ultimately underpin the development of novel strategies for prevention of disease transmission.

Arthropods that feed exclusively on vertebrate blood (such as lice, bedbugs, tsetse flies, ticks) or plant sap (such as aphids, whitefly, mealybugs) face a nutritional problem – how to obtain sufficient amounts of essential micronutrients (vitamins) when their sole food source is itself deficient in those micronutrients. To overcome this problem, arthropods exist in a nutritional symbiosis with microorganisms which can synthesise the essential micronutrients missing from diet. These microorganisms are often housed within specific arthropod cells. The arthropod-microorganism symbiotic partnerships have evolved over millions of years and often neither the arthropod nor microorganism can survive independently of the other partner. However, the molecular mechanisms which enable these partnerships to be maintained are not yet well understood. Insects, such as bedbugs and aphids, and their obligatory microorganisms (specific species of bacteria) not only provide excellent models to better understand these tightly controlled processes, but studying such models will aid the development of novel strategies for crop protection and prevention of disease transmission. We have found that candidate proteins for mediating B vitamin transport between model insect species and their symbiotic bacteria are distantly related to human transporters.

This research project will investigate vitamin transporters in insects using a number of complementary experimental (molecular, biochemical, physiological) and computational techniques and laboratory models of insect-microorganism symbiosis such as bedbugs and aphids. You will be trained in techniques such as functional transport measurements, immunocytochemical staining of insect tissues, RNAi and insect culture.

You will be based in the laboratory of Dr. Catriona Anderson, a transporter biologist within the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Newcastle University and will also spend time in the laboratories of Prof. Greg Hurst, University of Liverpool and Prof. David Thwaites, Medical School, Newcastle University. You will be part of a wider multidisciplinary team of insect, microbe and plant (crop) researchers at Newcastle University.


Applications should be made by emailing [Email Address Removed] with:

·        a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees);

·        a covering letter – clearly stating your first choice project, and optionally 2nd ranked project, 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;

·        copies of your relevant undergraduate degree transcripts and certificates;

·        a copy of your IELTS or TOEFL English language certificate (where required);

·        a copy of your passport (photo page).

A GUIDE TO THE FORMAT REQUIRED FOR THE APPLICATION DOCUMENTS IS AVAILABLE AT Applications not meeting these criteria may be rejected.

In addition to the above items, please email a completed copy of the Additional Details Form (as a 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]

The deadline for all applications is 12noon on Monday 9th January 2023. 

Funding Notes

Studentships are funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for 4 years. Funding will cover tuition fees at the UK rate only, a Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) and stipend. We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


(2019) Trading amino acids at the aphid/Buchnera symbiotic interface. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 116: 16003-16011.
(2020) Transmission, Tropism, and Biological Impacts of Torix Rickettsia in the Common Bed Bug Cimex lectularius (Hemiptera: Cimicidae). Front Microbiol. 11: 608763.
(2021) Torix Rickettsia are widespread in arthropods and reflect a neglected symbiosis. Gigascience 10: e21.
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