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Understanding and combating blackhead disease in poultry

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  • Full or part time
    Prof S Huws
    Dr N Corcionivoschi
    Prof C Creevey
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Histomonosis, also commonly referred to as blackhead disease, is a disease that infects several known species of gallinaceous fowl. It is caused by the protozoan parasite Histomonas meleagridis and was first seen in Rhode Island in 1893. This parasite can cause mortality, particularly in turkeys, and has been found all over the globe in economically important avian species. In the 1970s Nitroimidazoles drugs were discovered to be effective in combatting the disease, and were used to treat histomonosis. Unfortunately, due to human health concerns, these drugs were banned for use on animals for human consumption in the EU and US initially (2002-2015), and then globally, as they were suspected of being carcinogens. The last drug to be banned was Nitarsone, in 2015, which was only available in the US at that time. Since then, there have been some attempts to produce drugs that are effective in preventing and treating H. meleagridis infections, whilst being safe for the consumer, nonetheless these have varied efficacies. Some of these include paramomycin (commonly used to treat coccidiosis) and Agricure Enteroguard, an essential oils-based product. Paramomycin and enteroguard mode of action on H. meleagridis and the reasons for the varied responses are unknown. Irrespective, blackhead disease continues to be a major challenge for the poultry industry with mortalities of more than 1 million turkeys reported/annum in the UK alone (Personal Communication, British Poultry Council). The aim of this project is to develop innovative solutions to treat blackhead disease in turkeys. This PhDt is a DFE CAST studentship partially funded by Aviagen and the British poultry council and the second supervisor is also based in the Agri-Food Biosciences instate, Northern Ireland. Therefore this project has a strong link to industry and government. This project will be well suited to students interested in microbiology/animal science/computational biology. A budget for training in necessary skills is available as part of the project.

The four objectives of the proposed research project are:

• Assess mode of action of both paramomycin and Enteroguard together or separately on H. meleagridis in vitro. A thorough review of approved drugs used to treat protozoal infections will be completed and added to an in vitro screen in order to check whether other viable options for treating the disease exist.
• Assess efficacy and mode of action of both paramomycin and Enteroguard on H. meleagridis in vivo. Turkeys with be infected with H. meleagridis, using facilities at AFBI, and subsequently affect of early and mid-disease treatment with either paramomycin and Enteroguard or both in combination at recommended dosages will be monitored. This study will allow mechanism of action to be elucidated.
• Assess efficacy and mode of action of ‘other’ potential treatments in vivo. This objective is open-ended and will largely depend on the outcomes of the desk search conducted in objective 1. Specifically, we will infect turkeys with H. meleagridis using facilities at AFBI and monitor effect of these during early and mid-phases of the disease as noted above.

Start Date: 1 October 2020
Duration: 3 years

This project will be supervised by Professor Sharon Huws and Professor Chris Creevey (Queen’s University School of Biological Sciences/Institute for Global Food Security) and Dr Nicolae Corcionivoschi (AFBI). The industrial supervisor is to be Dr John Ralph of Aviagen Turkeys.

Skills required by applicants:

Experience of working in a microbiology laboratory and basic bacteriology skills.
Experience or at least a willingness to work with poultry.
Knowledge of the poultry industry within Northern Ireland.
Desirable: access to car/transport that would enable travel to AFBI.

Funding Notes

The studentship will be funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE) supported by Aviagen and the British Poultry Council. The studentship is subject to the signing of a contract between Queen’s University Belfast, Aviagen, and the British Poultry Council. Until this agreement is signed, the offer of a studentship place will be subject to contract.

Only UK/EU students are eligible to apply. Please read the full information on eligibility criteria: https://www.economy-ni.gov.uk/publications/student-finance-postgraduate-studentships-terms-and-conditions

Not all applicants may be eligible to receive a full studentship - please note the Residency and Citizenship requirements in the document linked to above.

How good is research at Queen’s University Belfast in Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 33.40

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

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