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Waking up to sleeping sickness: evolutionary approaches for the genetic control of tsetse vectors

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  • Full or part time
    Dr P Hayes
    Dr S Getting
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

New sustainable control strategies are urgently required against tsetse-transmitted trypanosomiasis, a major socio-economic disease of humans and livestock across sub-Saharan Africa prioritised by the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, detailed knowledge of the molecular interactions between trypanosomes and their tsetse vectors and the factors that regulate transmission, which is essential for informing development of genetic based long-term control of tsetse populations, is lacking. This project will examine variation of tsetse immune genes associated with trypanosome infection and explore the evolutionary association between tsetse innate immunity and bacterial symbionts, thought to be involved in modulating transmission. The project will utilise current genome resources for tsetse, endosymbionts and tsetse-transmitted trypanosomes to develop markers to identify the evolutionary processes acting on fly-symbiont-parasite interactions among wild populations of flies from sub-Saharan Africa. This approach builds on current research at University of Westminster, which has shown variability in immune genes between tsetse species that differ in their abilities to transmit trypanosomes, illustrating a clear association between genetic variation, speciation and infection. The project will benefit from joint supervision with the University of Bristol, and collaborations with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and North West University in South Africa.

The student will receive training in molecular biology, parasitology, medical entomology, bioinformatics, population genetics and molecular epidemiology, gaining expertise in a number of key laboratory and analytical research skills. The student will also take part in the University Graduate School and Faculty Doctoral Research Development. In addition to these training programmes and the subject specific skills listed above, the student will gain important transferable skills (e.g. presentation skills, scientific writing and employability skills) to aid in future career progression. The student will be encouraged to join relevant learned societies (e.g. British Society for Parasitology), which provide excellent support for students in terms of training opportunities and meetings to disseminate and publish their research.

Funding Notes

The Studentship consists of a fee waiver and a stipend of £16,000 per annum. Successful candidates will be expected to undertake some teaching duties.


Related publications
Hayes et al. (2014) Modulation of a cytoskeletal calpain-like protein induces major transitions in trypanosome morphology. J Cell Biol., 206(3):377-84.

Echodu et al. (2015) Genetic diversity and population structure of Trypanosoma brucei in Uganda: implications for the epidemiology of sleeping sickness and Nagana. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 9(2): e0003353.

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