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First steps towards genetic-based control of snail intermediate hosts of the liver fluke, Fasciola hepatica: Genomics and population genetic variation of immune genes of Galba truncatula


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  Dr Scott Lawton  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Despite their importance as intermediate hosts of trematode (fluke) parasites, there is sparce information concerning fluke-snail interactions and the genetic basis of disease transmission risk for the liver fluke, Fasciola hepatica, the causative agent of fascioliasis. This disease affects at least 2.5 million people worldwide, but its greatest impact is in the farming sector costing the UK cattle industry of £23 million alone. WHO have advocated the use of genetically-modified disease vectors as part of integrated control programmes, with great success have already seen in the reduction of mosquito-borne diseases. However, this requires a detailed knowledge of the genome of the vector, and a thorough understanding of the host-parasite interface, specifically the evolutionary relationship between immune gene variants and infection within the vector population. This is a crucial element missing for snail intermediate host of fluke, and although genome assemblies are available for Biomphalaria and Bulinus, snails that transmit schistosomiasis, little is known concerning variability of specific immune genes and parasite compatibility in the liver fluke-snail intermediate host Galba truncatula. Several studies have illustrated a complex evolutionary relationship between schistosomes and their snail hosts, highlighting a particular role for highly variable fibrinogen-related proteins (FREPS) and a diverse repertoire of toll-like receptors (TLRs), which allow the snails to recognise and destroy the parasite. Similarly, Pseudosuccinea columella, an accidental host for F. hepatica in South America, has parasite-specific mannose receptors to recognise infection. However, despite the significant economic and human/animal health importance of fascioliasis, to date, there is no major genomic resource for G truncatula, nor have there been any major studies attempting to assess the relationship between G. truncatula population genetics and parasite infection.

 Using the publicly available Biomphalaria and Bulinus genome resources, this project aims to produce a draft genome assembly for G. truncatula, to identify potential immune genes associated with fluke infection. Secondly, using archived and newly collected snail material and applying population genetic analyses of selected immune genes, this project also aims to assess the relationships between immune gene variation and parasite infection in G. truncatula populations from across Scotland. This would be the first stages of identifying parasite-resistant genotypes that could inform selective breeding of G. truncatula for use in integrated control of fascioliasis. 

The student would be immersed in a multidisciplinary research team benefitting from expertise and resources from SRUC, the Moredun Research Institute, and the University of Aberdeen and will receive training in molecular biology, genomics, bioinformatics, population genetics, parasitology, malacology, epidemiology and field work.

HOW TO APPLY

Application instructions can be found on the SRUC website- PhD opportunities | SRUC

  1. Download and complete the Equal opportunities survey and note the completion reference
  2. Download and complete the SRUC Application form
  3. Download the Academic Reference Request and send to two referees requesting they submit to [Email Address Removed] by the closing date.

Send your application including the following to [Email Address Removed]:

  • Completed Application form quoting REF SRUC/ViT
  • Academic Qualifications
  • English Language Qualification (if applicable)

Unfortunately, due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications. Please ensure your application is complete by Thursday 5th January 2023.


Funding Notes

This 3.5 year PhD studentship is open to UK and international students, providing funding to cover UKRI level stipend and UK level tuition fees.

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Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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