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QUADRAT DTP: Functional parasite epigenomics and transcriptomics for improving honey-bee health in a global pollination crisis

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 22, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Pollination is an immensely important ecosystem service that not only contributes to maintaining biodiversity in wild ecosystems but is also indispensable for meeting ever-increasing demands on agriculture to sustain global food security. Honey bees are among the most important pollinators world-wide but have faced a considerable decline in recent decades, which is contributing to a global pollination crisis [1].

Honey-bee health is critically affected by an intricate three-way symbiosis with the parasitic mite Varroa destructor and a broad range of viruses [2]. Varroa mites are ubiquitous in virtually all bee colonies and are one of the main causes of honey-bee decline because they transmit viruses that cause deadly diseases (most prominently deformed-wing virus DWV). These impacts are exacerbated under stressful environmental conditions, where Varroa infection becomes a real burden for the colony. While the functional molecular responses of bees to viral infection are well-examined, it is poorly understood how functional molecular processes may affect Varroa behaviour and viral transmission and how environmental context may affect these molecular dynamics [3].

This project aims to develop mechanistic understanding of functional epigenomic and transcriptomic molecular processes involved in the interactions between Varroa and DWV. The broad questions to be addressed are: 1) Do Varroa mites collected from different ecological contexts (e.g, different seasons) and/or having different viral loads differ in genome-wide epigenetic information such as nucleotide methylation? 2) What changes in gene expression and regulation of physiological pathways are associated with changes in epigenetic information? 3) How could the epigenetic machinery of Varroa be manipulated and harnessed to improve honey-bee health?

These questions will be addressed with a range of candidate-gene based and genome-wide epigenomic and transcriptomic assays. An annotated reference genome of Varroa destructor is available, which will ensure that data can be interpreted against a functional backbone and meaningful inferences can be drawn. The project will be particularly suitable to a student with interests in functional epigenetics, genomics and bioinformatics. The student will receive full training in all aspects of the project, including collection of field samples, microdissection of mites, maintenance of mites in the lab, a broad range of molecular biology methods (DNA/RNA extraction, PCR, qPCR etc.) and extensive bioinformatics training relevant to the types of high-throughput-sequencing data generated during the project (Illumina, Oxford NanoPore).

The Genomics Core Technology Unit (GCTU) at Queen’s University Belfast and the Centre of Genome-Enabled Biology and Medicine (CGEBM) at the University of Aberdeen provide access to state-of-the-art high-throughput sequencing as well as high-performance computing facilities and formal bioinformatics training. This excellent genomics and bioinformatics support ensures that a comprehensive set of transferrable digital skills will be obtained in addition to a well-rounded set of practical molecular biology skills.


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.


[1] Goulson, D., Nicholls, E., Botí¬as, C. and Rotheray, E.L., 2015. Bee declines driven by combined stress from parasites, pesticides, and lack of flowers. Science, 347(6229), p.1255957.

[2] Brutscher, L.M., McMenamin, A.J. and Flenniken, M.L., 2016. The buzz about honey bee viruses. Plos Pathogens, 12(8), p.e1005757.

[3] Evans, J.D. and Cook, S.C., 2018. Genetics and physiology of Varroa mites. Current opinion in insect science, 26, pp.130-135.

How good is research at Aberdeen University in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 89.42

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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