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Will natural selection save the Tasmanian devil from extinction?

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, February 25, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Tasmanian devils are threatened by two fatal transmissible cancers, devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), firstly observed in 1996 and devil facial tumour 2 (DFT2), discovered in 2016. Dramatic population declines (>90%) led to concerns of disease-induced local extinctions. However, recent studies have identified divergent genetic and phenotypic adaptations to DFTD, suggesting that devils are evolving different strategies as defence mechanisms against tumours. This has raised hope that natural selection may protect this iconic and endemic species from extinction.

The project uses an integrative approach combining immunology, epidemiology and evolutionary biology to understand the role of host genetic and phenotypic adaptations to transmissible cancers. The project aims to assess the immune adaptive capabilities of devils in response to DFTD and DFT2 and to determine how the expression of immune genes differ between wild and captive populations. This approach will enable the development of novel diagnostic tools and disease markers for managing this and other threatened species. The project involves large field and lab work components and analyses of existing epidemiological and genetic datasets. The successful candidate will participate in research collaborations with an international team of researchers from government and non-government organisations and Universities in Australia, France and United Kingdom.

Please refer to the Entry Requirements for a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Candidates from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds are encouraged to apply. Knowledge and skills that will be ranked highly include:

A good understanding in the fields of disease ecology and evolutionary biology.
Quantitative analyses of epidemiological and immunological data.
Ability to work with large genetic data sets.
Proven success in conducting field and lab-based experiments.
Ability to work as part of an interdisciplinary team.

Funding Notes

The College of Sciences & Engineering, School of Natural Sciences, is offering a 3-year (with a possible 6 month extension) fully funded PhD scholarship in Zoology.

The following eligibility criteria apply:
Scholarship is open to domestic (Australian and New Zealand) and international candidates.
The degree must be undertaken on a full-time basis.
Applicants must already have been awarded a First-Class Honours degree or hold equivalent qualifications or relevant and substantial research experience in an appropriate sector.
Applicants must be able to demonstrate strong research and analytical skills.
Applicants must meet English requirements or be able to do so before commencement.

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