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The worm-bug: a new model to study how gut microbes affect the brain

School of Biosciences

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Dr M Ezcurra , Dr C W Gourlay No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The Jane Irons PhD Scholarship.

Exciting new findings show that the community of microbes in the gut, the gut microbiome can affect the brain, resulting in functional, behavioural, and cognitive changes. For example, faecal transplants from autistic children give rise to autistic behaviours in mice, and epilepsy is being treated through dietary interventions acting through the microbiome. But due to the complexity of the microbiome, and the cost associated with sterilising laboratory mice, our mechanistic understanding of how the microbiome affects the brain remains superficial. If we are to understand how microbes can communicate with the brain, unbiased and high-throughput approaches focusing on simple models, single microbial strains and metabolites are needed.

This project involves establishing the nematode C. elegans together with its natural commensals as a combined model, the “worm-bug”, for host-microbiome studies, allowing us to test hypotheses generated from metagenomics, and identify mechanisms by which host-microbiome interactions affect the nervous system. Specifically, we will investigate routes of communication between microbes and the host affecting mitochondrial biology, neuroinflammation and neurodegenerative disease.

This project will establish the use of an underestimated model that can revolutionise microbiome research. It will increase our mechanistic understanding of how microbes signal to the brain and contribute to microbiome-based dietary and pharmaceutical treatments for brain diseases. The project will enable the PhD student to be trained in a wide variety of research subjects and techniques highly relevant to a career in academia or industry, and work with a number of groups at University of Kent offering expertise in different areas, enabling world-class doctoral training.

Applicant criteria:
Applicants are required to meet the entry requirements for a PhD in Biosciences: A minimum 2.1 honours degree in Biology, Biomedicine or equivalent. A Master’s degree or equivalent is desirable. Research experience in whole organism biology, molecular biology and or biochemistry is also desirable.
This project is highly collaborative, and the researcher will work together with the PIs and collaborating partners to make it a success. The researcher will be responsible (together with the PIs) for the successful running of the project. This will require motivation, a high level of organisation, collaboration skills and a certain level of independence.

For further details and how to apply:

Funding Notes

This is a 3-year funded PhD studentship starting in September 2020.Full UK Research Council stipend award of £15,009 (rate for 2019/20) plus tuition fees at the Home/EU rate. International applicants should make provision to meet the difference between Home/EU and International fees.

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