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  Investigating the role of sheep and goat in interspecies transmission of pestiviruses in cattle and pig populations in the UK


   School of Veterinary Medicine

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  Dr Abel Ekiri, Dr Amin Asfor, Dr Helen Crooke, Prof F Steinbach  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

This is an exciting fully funded PhD studentship opportunity exploring virus host interaction and the role of sheep and goat in the transmission of pestiviruses to and impact on other important livestock species in the UK.

The Pestiviruses, including Bovine viral diarrhoea virus (BVDV), Border disease virus (BDV) and Classical swine Fever virus (CSFV), are among the economically most important pathogens of livestock. The biology of these viruses shows significant similarity to the biology of Yellow Fever virus within the family Flaviviridae. Several newly emerged pestivirus species were introduced into cattle and pigs as well as wild ruminant populations during the last decades. Emerging pestivirus diseases frequently challenge prevention and control strategies in the swine and cattle industry. BDV infections are sporadically reported in European pig population but as many infections are subclinical there is a limited information about the true prevalence. In 1987 a BDV outbreak in pigs was originally mistaken for CSF in the UK and later in 2012, BDV was the cause of clinical disease in a pig herd in the UK. These two incidents highlighted that ovine pestiviruses continue to infect pigs and cattle population with potential to complicate CSF and BVD diagnosis, impact international trade and cause animal welfare issues and production losses for both the pig and cattle industry. The BVD eradication programme is progressing at varying pace in the UK nations. This project has strategic relevance; understanding the transmission dynamics and the role of sheep and goat in maintaining pestiviruses in cattle and pigs can inform strategies for effective and sustainable disease eradication programmes and support international trade.

The project is jointly funded by the UK Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA) and the University of Surrey. The successful candidate will primarily work at the APHA site in Weybridge, Addlestone, Surrey. This project will require working in containment facilities, and health and security clearances will be required before starting the PhD.

During the PhD you will develop a diagnostic toolbox to differentiate between BDV, BVD and CSFV, and use various techniques to isolate viruses from the genetic material (vRNA), perform whole genome sequencing and reverse genetics to determine the genetic basis of interspecies transmission of pestiviruses, and use epidemiological methods to evaluate the risk associated with the presence of sheep in close proximity to cattle and pigs.

Overall, the student will gain significant research experience in molecular virology, immunology, and epidemiology. The project will provide the student with a valuable opportunity to interact with a multidisciplinary research team including virologists, species experts and epidemiologists from APHA and the University of Surrey.

Supervisors

  1. Dr Abel Ekiri (BVM, MS, PhD, DACVPM), Lecturer in Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Surrey.
  2. Dr Amin Asfor (PhD), lecturer in virology and immunology, Department of comparative biomedical science, School of Veterinary medicine, University of Surrey and APHA BVDV national reference laboratory lead.
  3. Dr Helen Crooke, APHA Pestiviruses research group lead, Weybridge, Addlestone, Surrey.
  4. Prof Falko Steinbach, APHA Virology Department lead, Weybridge, Addlestone, Surrey.

Entry requirements

Open to candidates who pay UK/home rate fees. See UKCISA for further information.

The PhD studentship is expected to commence in October 2024 but later start dates are possible.

You will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for our PhD programme.

This is an interdisciplinary project cutting across the disciplines of molecular biology, virology, and epidemiology.

Applicants with a degree in biomedical sciences related subjects are welcomed if they have a strong interest in virus disease transmission, virus host range restriction and epidemiology. Veterinary graduates are also encouraged to apply. A master’s degree or equivalent research experience in a related subject is desirable. Experience in epidemiological approaches or qualitative methods or with livestock is useful but not essential.

How to apply

Please apply for this PhD through the School of Veterinary Medicine PhD applications portal https://www.surrey.ac.uk/postgraduate/veterinary-medicine-and-science-phd (click on the “Apply” tab). Applicants are requested to provide a personal statement or cover letter speaking to their interest and ability to undertake PhD studies, and to provide at least two reference letters from previous academic supervisors or employers. Interested applicants are encouraged to contact Dr. Amin Asfor and Dr. Abel Ekiri to discuss the project informally prior to making an application.


Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4) Veterinary Sciences (35)

Funding Notes

Funding will cover University tuition fees at the UK/home rate and a stipend for three and half years at RCUK levels (£19,237 per year).

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