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What drives outbreaks of midge-borne viruses in the UK?

Project Description

In recent years, viruses transmitted by biting midges have become increasingly important to livestock farming in the UK. Thousands of these tiny flies are present on farms across the UK and incursions of bluetongue virus and Schmallenberg virus have a significant economic impact on animal production. We have previously identified a wide range of factors such as temperature and co-infection with microorganisms (including Cardinium and Wolbachia, insect-specific viruses and nematodes) in addition to genetic factors that may regulate infection in the midge host. The field and laboratory studies of this PhD will assist in understanding how these factors inter-relate in determining susceptibility to infection with arboviruses, which is poorly understood across vector-borne disease research.

This project brings together two major groups working on biting midge-arbovirus interactions in the UK. During your PhD you will be based at two sites: The Pirbright Institute is a world-leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of viral diseases, within easy commutable distance of London. The University of Liverpool is an internationally renowned public health and tropical medicine institution. This partnership provides a stimulating environment to develop both specific and transferable skills with state-of-the-art facilities in which to carry out your research and a wealth of experience in vector biology. Full training will be provided in both field and laboratory-based entomological techniques and molecular biology. You will also benefit from the unique contacts available to workers in Pirbright and Liverpool which extends from fundamental virologists to policy decision makers.

We expect you to be a highly motivated and innovative individual with a proactive approach to problem solving and excellent verbal and written communication skills. You will also require well-developed organisation and time-management skills and an ability to work independently and as part of a team. As part of the project you will need a full driving license and a willingness to work out of normal office hours as required by the field studies.

Funding Notes

This is a fully funded studentship open to science graduates (with or who anticipate obtaining at least 2.1 or equivalent in a relevant biological subject in an undergraduate degree, or a Masters degree - subject to university regulations). Open to UK students and eligible EU students who qualify for home-rated fees in line with UKRI Residential Guidelines - Visit Website for details. Eligible students will receive a minimum annual stipend of £15,009; university registration fees will be paid. Students without English as first language must provide evidence of IELTS score of 7.0, no less than 6.5 in subsections.


1. Morales-Hojas et al. (2018) The genome of the biting midges Culicoides sonorensis and gene expression analyses of vector competence for bluetongue virus. BMC Genomics 19: 624 doi: 10.1186/s12864-018-5014-1
2. Pilgrim et al. (2017) Torix group Rickettsia are widespread in Culicoides biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae), reach high frequency and carry unique genomic features. Environmental Microbiology 19: 4238-4255 doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.13887
3. Mills et al. (2017) Culicoides-virus interactions: infection barriers and possible factors underlying vector competence. Current Opinion in Insect Science 22: 7-15 doi: 10.1016/j.cois.2017.05.003

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