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Hitching a ride: How do arboviruses manipulate their insect hosts to maximise transmission?

Pirbright Laboratory, Surrey, Outer London

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Dr C Sanders , Prof R Bomphrey No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Woking United Kingdom Behavioural Biology Biotechnology Cell Biology Entomology Genetics Microbiology Molecular Biology Structural Biology Veterinary Medicine Virology

About the Project

Animal viruses such as bluetongue (BTV) and African horse sickness (AHSV) cause high profile diseases of international importance in livestock, companion animals and wildlife. They are transmitted by the blood feeding of tiny Culicoides biting midges. These viruses must replicate within both the animal and insect hosts, but little is known of the consequence of infection on the insect vector and if viruses manipulate vector biology to enhance transfer between hosts. This PhD is about how and why viral infection alters the physiology and behaviour of an insect vector and understand how this might impact on virus transmission.

You will work with our experienced team of field and laboratory-based scientists to define a specific area of focus suited to your skills and interests. This project requires multidisciplinary approaches and will provide training in integrative science. Your studies could encompass techniques as diverse as visualisation of virus infection of different tissues in the bodies of midges to the analysis of flight performance of infected midges using high speed cameras. This will involve field-based collections and work in high biocontainment laboratories.

During your PhD, you will be based at The Pirbright Institute, which is a world-leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of viral diseases, within easy commutable distance of London. The Entomology group at Pirbright focuses on the interactions between vectors and the viruses they transmit, including aspects of behavioral ecology and vector competence. We have unique experience in combatting arbovirus incursions in the UK and take pride in our ability to translate fundamental research into methods that reduce the impact of these important events.

You will be registered at The Royal Veterinary College, which is an internationally renowned institution for bioscience research, specifically animal flight aerodynamics and host parasite interactions. This partnership provides a stimulating environment to develop both specific and transferable skills with state-of-the-art facilities in which to carry out your research and a wealth of experience in vector biology and animal biomechanics. Full training will be provided in both field and laboratory-based entomological techniques, molecular biology and flight performance assays. You will also benefit from the unique contacts available to workers in Pirbright and RVC which extends from fundamental virologists to policy decision makers. The proximity to London offers a vast range of potential academic experiences.

We expect you to be a highly motivated and innovative individual with a proactive approach to problem solving and excellent verbal and written communication skills. You will also require well-developed organisation and time-management skills and an ability to work both independently and as part of a team. As part of the project you will need a full driving license and a willingness to work out of normal office hours as required by the field studies.

TO APPLY: Full details of how to apply can be found on our website How to apply | The Pirbright Institute

For informal enquiries regarding this project please contact the project supervisors noted above.

For enquiries regarding eligibility and the application process please email [Email Address Removed]

Funding Notes

This is a fully funded studentship. Eligible students will receive a minimum stipend of £15,609 pa plus a cost of living allowance £2,200 pa. University tuition fees will be paid.


1. Sanders, C., Harrup, L.E., Tugwell, L.A. Brugman, V.A. England, M. and Carpenter, S. 2017. Quantification of within- and between-farm dispersal of Culicoides using an immunomarking technique. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12875.
2. Burgin LE, Gloster J, Sanders C, Mellor PS, Gubbins S, Carpenter S. 2013. Investigating Incursions of Bluetongue Virus Using a Model of Long-Distance Culicoides Biting Midge Dispersal. Transboundary and Emerging Diseases.
3. Bomphrey RJ, Nakata T, Phillips N, Walker SM. 2017. Smart wing rotation and trailing-edge vortices enable high frequency mosquito flight. Nature.
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