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  Fully Funded Department of Biology Studentship - Exploring the molecular properties and potential applications of venom proteins from parasitoid wasps

   Department of Biology

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  Dr Federico Sabbadin, Prof S Sweeney  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project


Parasitoid wasps are one of the most diverse groups of insects and an effective biocontrol agent used to protect agricultural crops from arthropod pests such as caterpillars, whiteflies, and aphids. Parasitoid wasps inject their eggs with a potent venom that paralyses the victim and incapacitates its immune system, thereby securing the growth of the larvae. Recent studies have shown that the venom of parasitoid wasps is a complex cocktail of putative proteases, lipases and several proteins of unknown function. These venom components have not been characterised in any detail and their biological roles are yet to be elucidated. The potential applications of wasp venom components in crop protection and pest control remain unexplored. During this project we will unpick the secrets of one of the most sophisticated biological weapons evolved by Nature.


We will use a multidisciplinary approach to unveil the identity, biochemical properties and efficacy of the venom proteins and enzymes from agriculturally important parasitoid wasps. We will then use this knowledge to design novel formulations for insect pest control in agriculture.

Experimental approach

You will be based within the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) and will benefit from a wide collaborative network, having access to a range of cutting-edge techniques and training opportunities. Venom glands and their content will be analysed though transcriptomics and shotgun proteomics, and will generate a full list of the most expressed genes and abundant proteins within the venom. You will clone the coding genes and scale up protein production in yeast and insect cells with help from the York Bioscience Technology Facility (BTF). Through microscopy, in vitro and in vivo assays, and structural studies, you will investigate the physiological effect, structural properties and biochemical activities of the pure venom components. Tissue damage, neurotoxicity and host-specificity of the venom proteins will be assessed in different insect groups, including model species (e.g. Drosophila melanogaster, Galleria mellonella) and agriculturally relevant pests (aphids and caterpillars).


Current pest control in agriculture relies on toxic chemicals that affect non-target animals and plants, persist in the environment and contaminate the food chain. We propose to use a completely novel approach by learning from parasitoid wasps and using molecular biology to repurpose their venom proteins towards crop protection.


The project builds on the lab`s extensive expertise in molecular biology techniques and biochemical characterisation of novel proteins and enzymes with potential agroindustrial applications. The student will learn advanced techniques, including RNA and DNA extraction, sample preparation for transcriptome sequencing and shotgun proteomics, data analysis, gene cloning, heterologous protein expression and purification, biochemical assays, structural characterisation of proteins and enzymes using X-ray crystallography and cryo-EM. The student will also design and perform in vivo toxicity studies on model insects, and learn to use the powerful genetics of Drosophila as a model system to dissect the mechanism of action for any identified novel toxins.

The Department of Biology at the University of York is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

The Department of Biology holds an Athena SWAN Gold Award. We are committed to supporting equality and diversity and strive to provide a positive working environment for all staff and students.

Entry Requirements: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions.

Programme: PhD in Biology (3 years)

Start date: 1st October 2023

Interviews: end of April 2023 on a date to be confirmed

Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

This is a 3 year PhD project fully-funded by the Department of Biology at the University of York. This studentship covers: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard UKRI rate for doctoral study (£17,668 for 2023 entry), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees.

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