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Life in the belly of a whale: Genomic and population genetic approaches to disentangle the adaptations of the parasitic liver fluke Campula oblonga and how it interacts with it’s cetacean host

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  Dr Scott Lawton  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Disentangling mechanisms of parasitism in large predator definitive hosts is crucial in understanding the transmission of parasites in marine environments especially, to assess the full influence parasites may have more broadly within the marine ecosystem. The trematodes (flukes) within the family Brachycladiidae are known to have considerable impact on their fish intermediate hosts and known to cause significant pathology on their definitive hosts particularly baleen whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Interestingly, there have been increased reports of the fatal infection loads of such parasite infections in stranded marine mammals from the UK and Europe causing concerns over a suspected increase in infection rate potentially associated with human activity restricting feeding grounds for these animals as well as warming seas which increase cercarial out puts from marine snails because of climate change. This is particularly true for Campula oblonga one of the most common and ubiquitous trematodes of marine mammals in the Northern Hemisphere. However, to date there have been no studies that have attempted to disentangle the adaptations of C. oblonga, or any other member of the Brachycladiidae, with no understanding of the genetic basis of the mechanisms employed by the parasites to take advantage of their host. The application of genomic and molecular genetic approaches has provided a significant insight into other flukes such as those within the genera Schistosoma and Fasciola. An understanding genetic adaptation in C. oblonga would reveal how such parasites interact with their hosts in marine environments and provide a wider perspective of how trematodes have evolved to take advantage of multiple hosts in a wide range of environments.

This project will focus on archived populations of adult C. oblonga collected from stranded harbour porpoise carcasses from the coastline of the Netherlands and using both genomic and molecular genetic approaches the following questions will be addressed   

  1. Does C. oblonga share similar genes to other trematodes in order to interact with its definitive host or does it have unique gene families which may be specific to parasitising cetaceans?
  2. Are there particular antigen protein coding genes or gene families in C. oblonga?
  3. What is the genetic variation of C. oblonga between hosts and is this reflected in the antigen protein coding genes?  

The successful candidate will receive training in molecular evolutionary biology, genomics, bioinformatics, in silico antigen identification, parasitology, and there may be the opportunity for field work with collaborators over seas


Application instructions can be found on the SRUC website- PhD opportunities | SRUC

  1. Download and complete the Equal opportunities survey and note the completion reference
  2. Download and complete the SRUC Application form
  3. Download the Academic Reference Request and send to two referees requesting they submit to [Email Address Removed] by the closing date.

Send your application including the following to [Email Address Removed]:

  • Completed Application form quoting REF SRUC/SL
  • Academic Qualifications
  • English Language Qualification (if applicable)

Unfortunately, due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications. Please ensure your application is complete by Thursday 5th January 2023.

Funding Notes

This 3.5 year PhD studentship is open to UK and international students, providing funding to cover UKRI level stipend and UK level tuition fees.

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