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Physiological capacity of hibernating bats and implications for immunity and viral load PhD in Discipline Studentship(BBSRC SWBio DTP funded).

College of Life and Environmental Sciences

About the Project

This project will use an exciting combination of field work in Portugal and molecular and biochemistry techniques to understand the effect of hibernation on viral infection of bats. Bats are hosts of zoonotic diseases that can present increasing risks to global human health, as exemplified by COVID-19. Key to understanding risk of disease spread is a robust knowledge of the physiological capacity of bats to store and spread zoonotic pathogens. This studentship will investigate one such aspect of bat physiology – the expression of torpor. The majority of temperate insectivorous bat species hibernate during the winter months to reduce the cost of defending high body temperature in the face of declining ambient temperatures and variable food supply. During hibernation animals can manipulate their body temperature to control pathogens. Wide variations in temperature and cellular activity could affect interactions between hosts and their pathogens, and may help reduce or even eliminate pathogens[1]. Hence, changes in the frequency, length and depth of torpor bouts can affect pathogen load in bats. The propensity of bats to hibernate is related to environmental conditions, such that bats are more
likely to hibernate in cooler temperatures. Insectivorous bats that hibernate in unpredictable environments can show plasticity in their thermoregulatory responses and behaviour[2].

This interdisciplinary studentship will use a natural experiment of bat hibernaculas in different environments in Portugal to investigate the winter thermoregulatory physiology of bats and how it affects immune function and virus load. Given that winter temperatures in the UK are predicted to rise over the next few decades, it is important to understand how changes in hibernation are likely to impact viral load and prevalence in bats.

We are looking for a candidate with a strong background in biological sciences and a keen interest in physiology and interdisciplinary research to develop the following objectives:

1. Use field physiological approaches to quantify differences in torpor length and depth and physiological
status of bats in hibernacula in warmer Mediterranean versus cooler Atlantic regions.

2. Use flow cytometry and blood enzyme assays to determine impacts of changes in hibernation patterns on
immune functions.

3. Use molecular approaches to assess differences in virus load and prevalence between hibernating and
non-hibernating bats.


To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet both the academic and residence criteria.

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover

• a stipend* at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £15,285 per annum for 2020-2021
• research and training costs
• tuition fees (at the standard Research Councils UK rate)
• additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship

Please refer to the regulations or Annex 1 of the Research Council Training Grant Guide to confirm that you meet the residence criteria for a fully-funded studentship. Any further queries in relation to residency must be directed to the institution that you are applying to.

* An enhanced stipend is available for students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£23,164 per annum for 2019-2020). There may also be enhanced stipends associated with projects that have a CASE partner (CASE projects are highlighted as *CASE in the project lists).

[1] Burton & Reichman 1999, Func.
Ecol. 13:232–237
[2] Wojciechowski et al. 2007, Comp.
Biochem. Phys. A 147:828-840

Funding Notes

BBSRC SWBio DTP funded CASE studentship available for September 2021 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,285 per annum for 2020-21, on a full time basis.

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