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

  • Full or part time
    Dr P Vale
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, January 05, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Second Supervisor: Andrea Wilson, The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh,

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. Further, the project will be done in collaboration with Dr. Andrea Wilson from the Roslin Institute whose group have developed novel statistical models to quantify the contribution of different mechanism to disease transmission, particularly within the context of livestock. This adds an exciting interdisciplinary aspect to the project, linking experimental epidemiology and mathematical biology with the potential application to veterinary science.
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, in addition to the collaboration with Dr. Wilson mentioned above.
The ideal student will have a strong background in infectious diseases, parasitology, disease ecology, evolutionary ecology, genetics 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, an aptitude for quantitative and statistical thinking and boundless enthusiasm and motivation for experiments with insects is essential.

For more information on our work, please see: and

Funding Notes

The “Visit Website” 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 5 January 2020 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. Siva-Jothy JA, White L, Craft ME, Vale PF. 2019 Population-Level Disease Dynamics Reflect Individual Heterogeneities in Transmission. bioRxiv , 735480. (doi:10.1101/735480)

3. Anacleto, O., Cabaleiro, S., Villanueva, B., Saura, M., Houston, R. D., Woolliams, J. A., & Doeschl-Wilson, A. B. (2019). Genetic differences in host infectivity affect disease spread and survival in epidemics. Scientific reports, 9(1), 4924.

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 109.70

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