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Fully-funded White Rose BBSRC DTP Biology project: Identifying the common biological properties of parasite vaccine targets

   White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership in Mechanistic Biology

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  Prof Gavin Wright, Prof J Mottram  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Lead supervisor: Prof Gavin Wright (Department of Biology)

Co-supervisor: Prof Jeremy Mottram (Department of Biology)

The student will be registered with the Department of Biology

The livelihoods of millions of people living in Africa are at risk due to infectious diseases that affect the health of livestock animals that provide them with essential food, milk, clothing and draught power. One major livestock disease is animal African trypanosomiasis (AAT) which causes annual productivity losses of over $1 billion. Such is the impact of this disease that the United Nations consider it to “lie at the heart of Africa’s struggle against poverty”. 

We have established infection models of both AAT-causing parasites: T. congolense and T. vivax, and, by using a library of over 40 recombinant proteins representing parasite cell surface proteins, have identified a subunit vaccine candidate that can confer sterile protection (see Autheman et al. “An invariant Trypanosoma vivax vaccine antigen induces protective immunity” Nature 2021 v595 p96 PMID:34040257). We are currently translating these findings with the aim of developing an effective vaccine.

One interesting puzzle from this research is why only one or two out of the 40 tested vaccine candidates were effective. Posed as a question: “what is special about the structure, subcellular localization or basic cell biology of the vaccine targets that could elicit protective immune responses compared to those that could not?” This is an important question because the answer will improve vaccine efficacy and permit a more rational approach to selecting effective targets for other parasitic diseases.

The aim of the PhD project will therefore be to discover the biological properties that are shared between successful vaccine candidates. The project will use the latest in mass spectrometry techniques to compare the features of parasite cell surface proteins and their interactions. Follow up work will involve live imaging of parasites, structural antibody characterization, and quantitative protein interaction assays. The results will be used to improve vaccine design and reveal fundamental aspects of the biology of these clinically and economically important parasites. 

 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. 

The WR DTP and the University of York are committed to recruiting 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 we 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.

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 any biological, chemical, and/or physical science backgrounds, or students with mathematical background who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions. 

Programme: PhD in Mechanistic Biology (4 years)

Start Date: 1st October 2023

Interviews: Friday 10 February 2023 or Monday 13 February 2023. Please keep these dates free.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the BBSRC White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership in Mechanistic Biology. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 4 years. The funding includes:
Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£17,668 for 2022/23 academic year)
UK tuition fees
Research support and training charges (RSTC)
International students will need to have sufficient funds to cover the costs of their student visa, NHS health surcharge, travel insurance and transport to the UK as these are excluded from UKRI funding.

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