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Maternal effects and host-microbiome-pathogen interactions in disease vectors

School of Biological Sciences

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Dr Sinead English , Dr F Ponton No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The aim of this PhD project is to develop a formal framework to understand the role of maternal effects in host-microbiome-pathogen interactions, using important insect vectors of disease (mosquitoes, tsetse) as exemplars. Most organisms harbour a community of microbes that interact with pathogens, either by direct resource competition or indirectly through by affecting the host immune system. In insect vectors of disease, there is increasing interest in manipulating these microbes to decrease the vector population size or interfere with pathogen transmission. Formal mathematical models are important tools to show how perturbing one aspect of host-microbepathogen system (e.g. removing microbes) changes the overall dynamics.

The condition of the mother – her age and nutritional state – can shape the microbial community and immunity of her offspring. How these transgenerational effects change the predictions of hostmicrobe-pathogen interactions is yet to be explored. The student will build on recent modelling work (King & Bonsall 2017, BMC Evol Biol) to incorporate maternal effects into the hostmicrobiome-pathogen system, and how this differs across insect disease vectors. Maternal effects may be particularly important in vectors such as tsetse flies which produce one enormous larva at a time compared to mosquitoes which produce batches of many small eggs.

The project would fit a student with strong quantitative skills and a background in, or demonstrable enthusiasm for, evolutionary ecology and entomology. The student should be willing to live in two different countries (2 years in Bristol, UK, and 1.5 years in Sydney, Australia). Conditions of funding mean the position is available only to UK/EU students and an MSc qualification is desirable. Studentship can start 1 January 2021 or 1 April 2021.

To apply, please email Dr Sinead English ([Email Address Removed]) with a 1-page cover letter describing your suitability and eligibility for the position, a CV (max 2 pages) and contact details for two academic (or other relevant) referees. Video-conference interviews will take place in the week commencing 20 July.

Funding Notes

The PhD position is jointly hosted at the University of Bristol, UK and Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. The position is fully funded for 3.5 years and covers research costs, tuition fees, stipend and flights between UK and Australia. The student will be supervised by Dr Sinead English (Bristol) and Dr Fleur Ponton (Macquarie), with guidance from Professor Mike Bonsall (Oxford) and Dr Antoine Barreaux (Bristol). The student will spend 2 years in Bristol and 1.5 years in Sydney during the project, developing models (Bristol/Oxford) and testing predictions from these models in empirical systems such as tsetse flies and mosquitoes (Bristol/Macquarie).

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