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Genetic control of avian disease vector mosquitoes for conservation

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

Project Description

Supervisors: Dr Stuart Wigby (Zoology); Dr Kelly Matzen (Oxitec); & Dr Luke Alphey (Pirbright & Oxitec)

Since the arrival of Europeans in the Hawaiian Islands, 71 out of 113 endemic bird species there have become extinct, and 32 are currently endangered or threatened. Mosquito-vectored avian malaria and pox, which were co-introduced with non-native mosquito species, are primary obstacles to conservation and restoration efforts of endemic forest avifauna [1]. The mosquito Culex quinquefasciatus is the dominant vector of the pathogens in Hawaiian bird populations.

One promising approach for mosquito control is RIDL (Release of Insects carrying a Dominant Lethal) [2] uses transgenic technology to engineer a lethal trait in larvae, which is repressible by provision of tetracycline in the larval water to allow rearing in captivity. As recently shown against the dengue virus vector mosquito, Aedes aegypti, sustained releases of male RIDL mosquitoes leads to substantial reduction of the target population [3], as progeny die as larvae in the absence of the chemical antidote in the field. Such mosquitoes are therefore ‘genetically sterile’. A variant of RIDL engineers repressible female death [4-7], to allow production of male-only cohorts of mosquitoes (males do not bite or vector disease). RIDL implementation is firmly grounded in years of experience with radiation-sterilised insects (the Sterile Insect Technique) while providing major improvements through the application of modern genetics.

This studentship project will seek to extend RIDL to C. quinquefasciatus. The student will generate transformed strains with modular constructs appropriate for function in Culex. Those that show a suitable RIDL phenotype will undergo assessment of biological performance parameters such as mating competitiveness and longevity in large cages. Success in the application of RIDL against this mosquito would represent the first use of transgenic animals for species conservation.

We anticipate that the bulk of the lab work will be conducted at The Pirbright Institute; and depending on progress, the project may involve lab and/or field work in Hawaii.

To apply please use the online application system at: . Please remember to quote the studentship reference code WIG01. Any queries regarding the application procedure please contact [Email Address Removed]. Please note that as this is a studentship project, no research proposal is required, please submit a statement of purpose/personal statement in its place.

The University of Oxford is an Equal Opportunities employer.

Funding Notes

The full 4 year iCASE-NERC Studentship award, including a stipend from NERC (currently £13,863 pa) is available only to residents of the UK, or those satisfying the NERC eligibility criteria ( Please see NERC website for full terms and conditions. EU applicants are eligible for a fees only award.
There is also a stipend enhancement of £1,000 from the Industrial CASE partner.


[1] LaPointe et al 2009 In: Conservation Biology of Hawaiian Forest Birds
[2] Thomas et al 2000 Science 287:2474-2476
[3] Harris et al 2012 Nature Biotech 30:828-830
[4] Fu et al 2010 PNAS 107:4550-4554
[5] Fu et al 2007 Nature Biotech 25:353-357
[6] Ant et al 2012 BMC Biol 10:51
[7] Jin et al 2013 ACS Synth Biol 2:160-166

How good is research at University of Oxford in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 223.80

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