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QUADRAT DTP CASE: Environmental change and the epidemiology of a multi-host pathogen in reservoir hosts: Leptospira in Africa


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Dr M Moseley , Prof E Morgan , Dr S Telfer No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Multi-host pathogens include some of the most important pathogens of livestock and humans. These pathogens are maintained in complex reservoirs that are comprised of epidemiologically connected animal host populations and environments (Viana et al., 2014). Therefore, understanding how environmental changes associated with climate change, urbanisation, invasive species and agricultural intensification drive infection risk in reservoir hosts is critical to predicting and mitigating the effects of multi-host pathogens on human and livestock disease risk.

Leptospira are spirochaete bacteria that are maintained in a broad range of mammalian hosts and cause clinical disease in livestock and humans. As invasive rodents and livestock are most frequently implicated as key reservoir hosts for Leptospira and transmission occurs through urine-contaminated environments, environmental changes that affect the composition of the reservoir host community, such as invasive species or agricultural intensification, or the survival and dissemination of Leptospira in the environment, such as climate change and flooding, will have a large effect on the epidemiology of these neglected pathogens within the reservoir host community. In rural Africa, there is growing evidence that i) the diversity of Leptospira in reservoir hosts is poorly understood, ii) livestock may also act as amplification hosts for Leptospira normally associated with wild small mammals and iii) livestock may be important sources of human infection (Rahelinirina et al., 2019). Difficulties associated with culturing Leptospira have limited our understanding of how the epidemiology of leptospirosis is shaped by changing environmental conditions. However, recent improvements in culture-independent molecular diagnosis and typing approaches have provided a unique opportunity to improve the diagnosis of leptospirosis and to better understand the ecology and epidemiology of these multi-host pathogens within their reservoir host communities (Moseley et al., 2018).

Using state-of-the-art diagnostic assays and molecular typing methods, including quantitative PCR, in-solution sequence capture and next generation sequencing, alongside advanced statistical modelling, samples collected from potential reservoir hosts (small mammals, buffalo and livestock) across different bioclimatic zones and gradients of urbanisation (urban, rural and natural) and agricultural management systems in southern Africa and Madagascar will be used to i) characterise the diversity of Leptospira in reservoir hosts, ii) improve our understanding of transmission within, and between, reservoir host communities, iii) identify the climatic, environmental and ecological drivers of Leptospira transmission and diversity within these communities. These data will be used to explore how environmental change might influence the epidemiology of environmentally transmitted multi-host pathogens and to inform improved control measures for human and livestock leptospirosis.

This project will suit a student interested in using molecular tools and statistical methods to answer important questions about the effects of environmental change on disease ecology and epidemiology. The student will receive multidisciplinary training and will interact with experts in disease ecology, veterinary science, public health and statistics. There will be opportunity for field work in Africa and for the student’s interests to drive the evolution of the project.

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Funding Notes

QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and international candidates (EU and non-EU). Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend/research & training support grant only.

Before applying please check full funding and eligibility information:

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