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FULLY FUNDED PHD: Exploration of risk posed by ruminant associated Coxiella burnetii to GB livestock and human health

   College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences

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  Dr Kathryn Allan, Dr J Halliday  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project



Coxiella burnetii is an intracellular gram-negative bacteria and aetiological agent of Q fever in ruminant livestock and humans.

A recent outbreak of Q fever in the Netherlands caused large numbers of human cases with a significant negative impact on the farming industry.

A Q fever gap analysis undertaken by the Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA) in 2020 identified several areas requiring further action or research, including assessment of the diversity of Coxiella burnetii strains present within Great Britain (GB), their host range and pathogenicity. Recent legislative changes in UK and the EU, now require C. burnetii infections in livestock to be reported to the APHA.

Different strains of C. burnetii can be detected and characterised using multiple genotyping approaches. However, information on host specificity (including zoonotic potential) and between species transmission are scarce and these dynamics are not well understood.

Some strains appear more able to cause human disease and some appear to be more adapted to certain ruminant host species where there is significant variation in their association with clinical disease.

Variation in pathogenicity and host range between strains may explain why C. burnetii prevalence can be high in ruminant populations in the absence of clinical disease, and why the incidence of Q fever in humans is generally low.


This project brings together staff from the University of Glasgow, Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA, Thirsk & Weybridge) and Moredun Research Institute (MRI). 

The studentship will be based at Glasgow and Glasgow staff will support the design and epidemiological elements of the project. 

The APHA are responsible for the surveillance of C. burnetii within GB and hold a collection of C. burnetii positive samples from confirmed Q fever cases in livestock. 

The APHA and MRI collaborate on a project to undertake sequencing of C. burnetii isolates and this studentship will link to that project. The APHA and MRI support for this studentship will include access to GB origin C. burnetii samples for culture, whole genome sequencing (WGS), application of additional molecular diagnostic approaches and genomic characterisation of C. burnetii samples.

The development of molecular and genotyping tools and their application to GB origin samples will be valuable for ongoing surveillance and outbreak prevention capacity. Similarly, work to assess the risk of a large Q fever outbreak in GB and assess potential mitigation strategies will have direct relevance to ongoing risk assessment and policy development processes.


1. To assess the level of risk of a large Q fever outbreak in GB livestock and humans and the impact of available mitigation strategies based on retrospective and prospective data.

2. To develop and evaluate molecular test for ruminants which include C. burnetii as a method to routinely capture Q fever infection status and assess levels of subclinical infections in GB.

3. To characterise the C. burnetii strains currently present in GB in different livestock species through WGS to evaluate the relationship between bacterial genotype, host specificity and pathogenicity to inform future assessment of risk.


Kathryn Allan, [Email Address Removed]

Jo Halliday, [Email Address Removed]

Rudolf Reichel, [Email Address Removed]

Nick Duggett, [Email Address Removed]

Tom McNeilly, [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

Funding for this studentship includes UK fees paid for 3 years and a student stipend at UKRI rates for 3 years. Is provided by the collaborating partners: Animal and Plant Health Agency, Moredun Research Institute and University of Glasgow.
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