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  White Rose BBSRC DTP: Understanding the role of piRNAs in mosquito immunity

   White Rose BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership

  Prof Luke Alphey, Dr S Sweeney  Sunday, January 07, 2024  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Vector-borne diseases afflict humans, livestock and plants – for example, according to WHO, vector-borne diseases comprise ~17% of all infectious disease of humans – and also threaten biodiversity by their impact on endangered species. Mosquitoes are a major vector group, and mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue, Zika, chikungunya and West Nile viruses significantly impact humans, birds and other species, yet mosquito-virus interactions remain under-investigated. This project focuses on analysing one aspect of the mosquito’s response to infection, and the potential for manipulating that to prevent transmission of such viruses.

Infection is known to lead the production of small RNAs that affect the virus replication. The best-known are siRNAs produced by the Dicer pathway. However, piRNAs (piwi-interacting RNAs) are also produced; these slightly longer RNAs (ca26-30nt rather than 20-24nt) are found in all animals. They are known to suppress transposons in Drosophila, but poorly understood in mosquitoes. However, several lines of evidence suggest a role in immunity - they are produced following infection, and manipulating the piwi pathway affects virus replication. This project aims to investigate further by specific expression of piRNAs and piRNA precursors in the key vector mosquito Aedes aegypti, assessing effects on infection, virus replication and vector competence.

The Alphey lab is a world leader in mosquito synthetic biology and exceptionally well able to support and supervise this project in every respect - technical and subject expertise, funding, equipment and facilities, etc. This project is mechanistic biology, aiming to understand fundamental aspects of mosquito-virus interaction, but with clear applied/translation potential if, for example, targeted manipulation of the pathway can reduce the ability of mosquitoes to transmit one or several relevant viruses. Since the piRNA pathway is conserved across animals, project outcomes will likely be relevant to other species well beyond mosquitoes and mosquito-borne disease.

About the DTP

This studentship is offered as part of the White Rose BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) in Mechanistic Biology, which brings together the research of the world-class molecular and cellular bioscience centres at the White Rose universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York.

Our mission is to train excellent bio-scientists who understand how living systems work and can innovate to address global challenges, such as the impact of climate change, a healthier old age, sustainable food production, land use and energy production.

What is on offer?

This is a core studentship for entry in October 2024.  

Join us and you will receive a 4-year, funded PhD programme of research and skills training, with cross-disciplinary supervision, plus a structured programme of cohort-wide training and networking events. A highlight is the annual symposium, which is planned and delivered by students.

A unique part of your training will be the Professional Internships for PhD Students (PIPS), where you will spend three months at a host organisation of your choosing, gaining experience of work in a professional environment, and acquiring transferable skills that will be beneficial in your future career.

How to apply – Expression of Interest

Students may apply for up to three projects anywhere in the Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP).  Applications will be to the DTP centrally, using an online Expression of Interest (EoI). The EoI will include:

§ CV information; not submitted separately

§ Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) data

§ Names of two referees

Deadline for EoIs is midnight Sunday 7th January 2024.

Submit EoIs using this link:

Shortlisted candidates will be required to make formal applications to the Graduate School at each institution, supplying the necessary paperwork.

Interviews will be held either Friday 2nd and Monday 5th to Friday 9th February, or Monday 19th to Friday 23rd and Monday 26th February 2024, in-person at Leeds, Sheffield and York, with a panel representing all 3 Universities. Shortlisted candidates will be notified of a specific time/date to attend. If you have applied for more than one project and are selected for interview, you will be interviewed only once. 


Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

Appointed candidates will be fully funded for 4 years:
 Tax-free annual stipend at the UKRI rate. The rate for starters in 2023/24 was £18,622. (Rates for 2024/25 starters are not yet available).
 UKRI tuition fees – These are paid directly to the host institution.
 A Research Training and Support Grant
 An allowance for Fieldwork/Conference/Travel
 A Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIPS) allowance
Not all projects will be funded; the DTP will appoint a limited number of candidates via a competitive process.
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