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Rift Valley fever virus genome variability and evolution as a means of predicting outbreaks and emergence

Project Description

A PhD studentship co-funded by the Pirbright Institute and the University of Surrey is available to highly motivated students with a keen interest in emerging vector-borne diseases and molecular virology. This exciting project will investigate the spatial-temporal evolution of Rift Valley fever virus in its mosquito vector and the effect of such evolution on viral fitness and pathogenicity.

Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) is a mosquito-transmitted pathogen endemic in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It predominantly infects livestock, where it causes abortions, fevers and deaths. Human infections also frequently occur which are sometimes fatal. Gaining a detailed understanding of how RVFV genomes evolve in the field will allow us to better predict outbreaks and their severity. In this project we will thus investigate the ability of RVFV to evolve in mosquito hosts and identify immunological drivers of this evolution in different mosquito tissues over the course of an infection. We will further assess the fitness and pathogenicity of viral genomes arising in mosquitoes and mammalian cells. We will use the obtained experimental data to model the potential emergence and spread of RVFV viral variants.

The candidate will be trained in molecular virology techniques under Biosafety Level 2 and 3 conditions, mosquito rearing, infections and manipulations as well as bioinformatics and mathematical modelling approaches. The candidate will have the opportunity to develop aspects of the project further, depending on interests. The candidate is further encouraged to give seminars, draft research papers for peer review and publication and to participate in other activities at the Pirbright Institute and the University of Surrey.

Funding Notes

This is a fully funded studentship open to science graduates (with or who anticipate obtaining at least 2.1 or equivalent in relevant biological subject in undergraduate degree, or a Masters degree - subject to university regulations). Open to UK students and eligible EU students who qualify for home-rated fees in line with UKRI Residential Guidelines (See link to "apply online" for details). Eligible students will receive a minimum annual stipend of £15,009; university registration fees will be paid. Students without English as first language must provide evidence of IELTS score of 7.0, no less than 6.5 in subsections.


1. Ikegami, T. (2012) Molecular biology and genetic diversity of Rift Valley fever virus. Antiviral Res. 95(3): 293-310.
2. Grubaugh, N.D. et al. (2016) Genetic drift during systemic arbovirus infection of mosquito vectors leads to decreased relative fitness during host switching. Cell Host & Microbe 19: 481-492.

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