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Targeted gene silencing in the poultry mite for sustainable parasite control in commercial egg production systems

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr A Bowman, Dr J Sternberg, Dr Dan Price  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Infestation of laying-hen houses with the poultry red mite (PRM; Dermanyssus gallinae) costs the EU poultry industry an estimated 230 million Euro per annum in production losses alone. Across Europe the majority of commercial egg production facilities have problems with PRM infestation which has a serious impact on hen health and welfare and causes a significant reduction in both egg quality and production. Demand for new control approaches is driven by inadequacy of current chemotherapeutic approaches and the emergence of treatment resistant populations of mites. Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop new, safe, effective and sustainable approaches for PRM control.

Aim of this project is to utilise RNA interference (RNAi) gene-knockdown to silence target genes in PRM to generate novel control approaches. RNA interference (RNAi) is a fundamental mechanism of gene regulation whereby small RNAs direct silencing of target loci based on sequence complementarity. Our lab has recently developed a reliable and reproducible methodology for targeted RNAi gene silencing in PRM. This project will identify gene targets in the recently published PRM genome and apply RNAi mediated gene silencing to study the effects on PRM mortality. The project will then develop platforms for RNAi delivery that can be utilised in commercial egg-production facilities for mite control. The combination of bioinformatic approaches coupled with experimental gene silencing will explore the functional consequences of loss-of-function of key PRM genes and in doing so will yield important insights into mite biology as well as identify gene targets for mite control.

The results of this project will provide the basis of the deployment of targeted gene silencing for PRM control in commercial egg-production facilities. The project is supported and funded by the British Egg Marketing Board (BEMB) and through continuous engagement with commercial egg-producers this project will yield relevant and much needed solutions for PRM control in the egg-production sector.

This fully-funded studentship will be based within a dynamic, vibrant and supportive research group at the Moredun Research Institute in the Edinburgh Science Triangle but will have the opportunity to perform studies at the University of Aberdeen, as needed. This interdisciplinary project will provide training and hands-on experience in cutting-edge next- generation bioinformatics, modern molecular biology and parasitology within the framework of a real-world, economically relevant challenge.

The candidate’s enthusiasm and commitment to the project are more valued than their experience. The project will provide full training where necessary. 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 provided they have a Merit/Commendation/Distinction at Masters level. Due to the nature of the funding stipulations, this studentship is only available to UK students.

Informal enquiries would be welcomed for a discussion. Please contact Dr Alan Bowman ([Email Address Removed]) or Dr Dan Price ([Email Address Removed]) for more information.



  • Formal applications can be completed online:
  • You should apply for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences to ensure your application is passed to the correct team
  • Please clearly note the name of the supervisor and exact project title on the application form. If you do not mention the project title and the supervisor on your application it will not be considered for the studentship.
  • 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 provided they have a Merit/Commendation/Distinction at Masters level.
  • General application enquiries can be made to [Email Address Removed]
Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded by the British Egg Marketing Board (BEMB) with the Moredun Research Institute and University of Aberdeen.
The Studentship includes full payment of Home rate tuition fees and a stipend at the BBSRC rate.


• Sigognault Flochlay, A, Thomas E, Sparagano O. 2017 Poultry red mite (Dermanyssus gallinae) infestation, a broad impact parasitological disease that still remains a significant challenge for the egg-laying industry in Europe. Parasit. Vectors, 10 (2017), p. 357
• Chen W, Bartley K, Nunn F, Bowman AS, Sternberg JM, Burgess STG, Nisbet AJ, Price DRG. RNAi gene knockdown in the poultry red mite, Dermanyssus gallinae (De Geer 1778), a tool for functional genomics. Parasit Vectors (2021) Jan 18;14(1):57
• Burgess, ST. Bartley, K., Nunn, F, Wright, HW, Hughes, M, Gemmell, M, Haldenby, S, Paterson, S, Rombauts, S, Tomley, F, Blake, D, Pritchard, J, Schicht, S, Strube, C, Oines, O, Van Leeuwen, T, Van de Peer, Y, Nisbet, AJ. 2018. Draft genome assembly of the poultry red mite, Dermanyssus gallinae" ASM Microbiology Resource Announcements 7, e01221-18.
• Nunn F, Bartley K, Palarea-Albaladejo J, Innocent, GT, Turnbull F, Wright HW, Nisbet AJ. 2019. A novel, high-welfare methodology for evaluating poultry red mite interventions in vivo. Veterinary Parasitology 267, 42-46
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