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Immune and physiological determinants of host heterogeneity in pathogen shedding and spreading

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  • Full or part time
    Dr P Vale
    Dr A Pedersen
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Individuals vary tremendously in their propensity to transmit infections. Such host heterogeneity – most striking in the case of super-spreading and super-shedding individuals - makes it difficult to predict, manage, and curtail epidemics. Identifying the causes of host variation in transmission is challenging in the wild, but an alternative approach is to study disease transmission under a variety of genetic and environmental contexts in controlled experimental conditions.
The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is a powerful and genetically tractable model of immunity, infection and behaviour, making it an ideal model system for experimental epidemiology. This project will capitalize on these strengths to explicitly test the immune and physiological determinants of host variation in pathogen spread. Using techniques developed in our lab to measure pathogen shedding from individual flies and population level pathogen spread, this is an exciting opportunity to finely dissect the contributions of genes involved in immunity and physiology to pathogen transmission.
The project could go in a number of directions depending on the interests of the student. Potential questions include testing the role of specific immune-deficiencies, damage repair mechanisms, or metabolic phenotypes on pathogen shedding and spread. There is also scope to overlap with current work in the lab which focuses on natural genetic variation and sex differences in these mechanisms, the effect of diet, or the role of co-infections. Collaborations with colleagues applying both empirical and theoretical approaches to this problem are also likely.
The ideal student will have a strong background in infectious diseases, parasitology, disease ecology, evolutionary ecology or similar background and should have a broad curiosity about why individuals vary in how sick they get and how sick they make others. Candidates should enjoy working in a vibrant, collaborative and supportive research environment. Critical thinking and boundless enthusiasm and motivation for experiments with insects is essential. An aptitude for quantitative and statistical thinking is beneficial, but adequate training will be provided.

For more information on our work, please see:

Funding Notes

The “Apply online” button on this page will take you to our Online Application checklist. Please complete each step and download the checklist which will provide a list of funding options and guide you through the application process.

If you would like us to consider you for one of our scholarships you must apply by 12 noon on 13 December 2018 at the latest.


1. VanderWaal, K. L., & Ezenwa, V. O. (2016). Heterogeneity in pathogen transmission: mechanisms and methodology. Functional Ecology, 30(10), 1606-1622
2. Vale PF, Choisy M, Little TJ. Host nutrition alters the variance in parasite transmission potential. Biol Lett. 2013;9: 20121145. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2012.1145
3. Siva-Jothy JA, Prakash A, Vasanthakrishnan RB, Monteith KM, Vale PF. Oral Bacterial Infection and Shedding in Drosophila melanogaster. JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments). 2018; e57676–e57676. doi:10.3791/57676

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 109.70

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