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

Project Description

Multi-host pathogens include some the most important pathogens of livestock and humans. These pathogens are maintained in complex ecological reservoirs that are comprised of epidemiologically connected animal host populations and environments (Viana et al., 2014). Environmental changes associated with climate change, urbanisation, invasive species and agricultural intensification have the potential to alter the ecology and evolution of these important pathogens. In a changing world, understanding how the drivers of environmental change might alter the risks posed by these pathogens to human and livestock health is critical to predicting and mitigating their effects.

Leptospira are spirochaete bacteria that infect a wide range of mammalian hosts, including livestock and humans. Invasive rodents, such as rats, are frequently implicated as key animal hosts, particularly in urban environments. However, in rural environments, livestock are also important animal hosts and there is growing evidence that the diversity of Leptospira in livestock is poorly understood and that livestock may also act as amplification hosts for Leptospira normally associated with wild small mammals (Rahelinirina et al., 2019). In animal hosts, Leptospira infections are maintained in the kidney with transmission occurring via urine contaminated environments where they can survive for prolonged periods under favourable conditions. Therefore, environmental conditions play an important role in shaping the epidemiology of leptospirosis, although difficulties associated with culturing Leptospira have resulted in a poor understanding of these effects. Recent advances in culture-independent molecular diagnosis and typing approaches have provided a unique opportunity to improve our understanding of the ecology and epidemiology of these multi-host pathogens (Moseley et al., 2018).

Using state of the art molecular typing methods, such as real-time PCR and melt curve analysis, in-solution sequence capture and next generation sequencing, and advanced statistical modelling, samples collected from small mammals and livestock across different bioclimatic zones, environments (urban and rural) and agricultural management systems in southern Africa and Madagascar will be used to i) characterise the diversity of Leptospira in small mammals and livestock, ii) improve our understanding of transmission within and between animal host communities, and iii) identify the climatic, environmental and ecological drivers of Leptospira transmission and diversity. These data will be used to explore how environmental change might influence the ecology of multi-host pathogens and the risks to human and animal health.

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.


Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select the ‘Visit Website’ to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.


Moseley, M., Rahelinirina, S., Rajerison, M., Garin, B., Piertney, S. and Telfer, S. (2018). Mixed Leptospira infections in a diverse reservoir host community, Madagascar, 2013-2015. Emerging Infectious Diseases 24,. doi: 10.3201/eid2406.180035.

Rahelinirina, S., Moseley, M. H., Allan, K. J., Ramanohizakandrainy, E., Ravaoarinoro, S., Rajerison, M., Rakotoharinome, V. and Telfer, S. (2019). Leptospira in livestock in Madagascar: uncultured strains, mixed infections and small mammal-livestock transmission highlight challenges in controlling and diagnosing leptospirosis in the developing world. Parasitology 1-7. doi: 10.1017/s0031182019001252.

Viana, M., Mancy, R., Biek, R., Cleaveland, S., Cross, P. C., Lloyd-Smith, J. O. and Haydon, D. T. (2014). Assembling evidence for identifying reservoirs of infection. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 29, 270-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2014.03.002.

How good is research at Aberdeen University in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 89.42

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