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WR DTP project: Structural architecture of vaccine targets for the parasitic livestock disease animal African trypanosomiasis

Department of Biology

About the Project

The livelihoods of millions of people living in Africa are at risk due to infectious diseases that affect the health of livestock animals that they depend on for essential food, milk, clothing and draught power. One major livestock disease is animal African trypanosomiasis (AAT) which causes annual productivity losses of over $1 billion, representing a major barrier for the socioeconomic advancement of many African countries. Such is the impact of this disease that the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation consider it to “lie at the heart of Africa’s struggle against poverty”.

The disease is caused by unicellular blood-dwelling parasites called trypanosomes which are transmitted by the bite of infected tsetse flies and are responsible for sleeping sickness in humans. We have recently made a major advance by identifying vaccine candidates for both species of trypanosome responsible for AAT: Trypanosoma vivax and Trypanosoma congolense. Excitingly, both vaccine targets are cell surface proteins that are localized to the parasite flagellum suggesting common vulnerabilities that can be exploited. We would now like to understand why targeting these proteins with vaccine-elicited antibodies leads to parasite killing to improve vaccine efficacy.

The project will involve expressing the parasite vaccine targets using recombinant protein technologies and determining their structure using X-ray crystallography and/or cryogenic electron microscopy in complex with protective antibodies and other parasite proteins they interact with. The structures will be used to improve vaccine design which will be tested in animal models and also reveal fundamental aspects of the biology of these clinically and economically important parasites. Finally, because the regulatory frameworks for livestock vaccines are understandably less stringent than for humans, our aim is to provide a timely solution to an important problem that will improve the lives of people living in low and middle income countries.

The White Rose DTP in Mechanistic Biology is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the BBSRC White Rose Doctoral Training Programme in Mechanistic Biology. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 4 years. The funding includes:

Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£15,285 for 2020/21)
UK tuition fees (£4,473 for 2021/22)
Research support and training charges (RSTC)

International candidates (including EU) will be considered however they will need to have adequate funds to meet the difference in tuition fees. International tuition fees for 2021 entry is £22,250.

Not all projects will be funded; a limited number of candidates will be appointed via a competitive process.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions. If English is not your first language, you will need to meet the minimum entry requirements for your country. Please check our website: https://www.york.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-research/apply/international/english/

START DATE: 1st October 2021

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