Neisseria meningitidis is the major cause of bacterial meningitis but is also widespread as an asymptomatic coloniser of human oropharyngeal tissues. Invasive meningococcal disease has an age stratification with infants and the elderly being prone to disease. Critically, meningococci are highly adaptable with multiple mechanisms of generating genomic variation in DNA sequences encoding key meningococcal virulence traits. Despite extensive genomic sequencing, there are major uncertainties over the genetic basis of invasive meningococcal disease.
This project aims to improve our understanding of the genomic basis for meningococcal virulence and in particular to identify bacterial determinants of disease in the elderly. The key work packages will be epidemiological and genome-wide association testing to detect associations between bacterial genetic elements and age-stratified disease; phenotypic screening to determine how disease-associated genetic elements alter virulence-related traits; and modelling to understand whether targeted prophylaxis can reduce the frequency of disease in the elderly.
The supervisory team is comprised of experts in meningococcal genomics and virulence, genome association tests, bioinformatics, statistical association tests, mathematical modelling and public health of disease.
The prospective student will gain expertise in all these areas and contribute to an internationally important project in era when meningococcal vaccines are undergoing rapid advances.
This project is available for UK/EU/International students.