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Tuberculosis and other mycobacterial infections of cats and dogs: development of new diagnostics for the direct identification of the pathogens involved in these clinically important and potentially zoonotic diseases

College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

About the Project

Tuberculosis (TB) is a global health concern. Cats (and dogs) are increasingly at risk, with most cases transmitted by rodent bites, or secondary to wound contamination. In the UK, ~1% of all feline biopsy samples have histopathology consistent with mycobacteriosis (1). We recently reported on two large outbreaks, one affecting >150 cats fed M. bovis-infected commercial raw wild venison, where four owners developed latent TB (2), while the other outbreak affected ~180 hounds that were fed M. bovis-infected cattle carcases (3).

Mycobacterial diagnosis is challenging; only ~50% of samples can be cultured, while immunological and serological testing is not specific for most species. PCR with sequencing is available, but requires significant modification to improve sensitivity and enable quantification of pathogen burden.
We hypothesise that the prevalence of these infections is higher than currently believed. Identifying the true prevalence of M. bovis in companion animals in the UK is essential to understand this zoonotic infection, as is the possible role that infected pets may play in relation to M. bovis infection of much of our national cattle herd, badger, deer and other wild animals. Finding other mycobacteria will allow a much greater understanding of these enigmatic infections and the role that companion animals may play in their complex ecology.

Working with our industrial partners, using our unique set of samples (>1000) from companion animals with natural mycobacterial infections, the student will answer this hypothesis, and find the true prevalence of these infections. They will:

i) develop a bespoke bacteriophage extraction system to improve detection of all mycobacteria
ii) develop the highly innovative Vetsina™/Destina™ technology to significantly enhance overall sensitivity and specificity
iii) convert the multiplex PCR developed by our previous BBSRC CASE PhD students into a quantitative real time multiplex PCR with improved sensitivity and specificity for each group of mycobacteria.

Funding Notes

3.5 year PhD

This opportunity is open to UK and international students and provides funding to cover stipend, tuition fees and consumable/travel costs. Applications including a statement of interest and full CV with names and addresses (including email addresses) of two academic referees, should be emailed to .

When applying for the studentship please state clearly the project title/s and the supervisor/s in your covering letter.

Other projects available:
We would encourage applicants to list up to three projects of interest (ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice) from those listed with a closing date of 10th January 2021 at View Website


1. Incidence of mycobacterial infections in cats in Great Britain: estimate from feline tissue samples submitted to diagnostic laboratories. 1. D A Gunn-Moore, C Gaunt, D J Shaw. Transbound Emerg Dis. 2013 Aug;60(4):338-44.
2. Feline tuberculosis caused by Mycobacterium bovis infection of domestic UK cats associated with feeding a commercial raw food diet. O'Halloran C, Tørnqvist-Johnsen C, Woods G, Mitchell J, Reed N, Burr P, Gascoyne-Binzi D, Wegg M, Beardall S, Hope J, Gunn-Moore D.Transbound Emerg Dis. 2020 Oct 22. doi: 10.1111/tbed.13889. Online ahead of print.
3. An outbreak of tuberculosis due to Mycobacterium bovis infection in a pack of English Foxhounds (2016-2017). O'Halloran C, Hope JC, Dobromylskyj M, Burr P, McDonald K, Rhodes S, Roberts T, Dampney R, De la Rua-Domenech R, Robinson N, Gunn-Moore DA. Transbound Emerg Dis. 2018 Dec;65(6):1872-1884.

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