PhD Studentship: The emergence of White Spot Syndrome Virus: Identifying ancestral hosts to prevent, mitigate and combat emerging diseases in aquaculture

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Science

Main supervisor: Dr Kelly Bateman (CEFAS), Dr Lena Bayer-Wilfert (University of Exeter)

Project Description: 

White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV) is a well-studied crustacean virus and has devastating effects on the shrimp farming industry, causing cumulative losses exceeding $10bn since 1993 (Stentiford et al., 2012). Combating this globally important pathogen is a high priority worldwide to promote food security and sustainable food production and to protect the health of wild crustacean species in tropical and temperate areas affected by WSSV. WSSV emerged in 1991 in Penaeus japonicus in China and Taipei, spreading rapidly throughout Asia and the Americas. WSSV is a large dsDNA virus and currently the sole member of the virus family Nimaviridae. Recently, we have isolated a similar virus in wild-caught European shore crab Carcinus maenas and previous studies have also suggested the presence of WSSV-like viruses in other crustaceans. Viral diseases occur in both farmed and wild aquatic animals, and these diseases commonly have their natural reservoir in wild aquatic animals, where population densities are often not sufficient to sustain the natural transmission cycle, which is readily facilitated by aquaculture. To prevent the emergence of novel diseases and to control WSSV, we therefore need to understand the viral epidemiology of wild and farmed crustaceans. 

In this project, you will investigate the epidemiology and evolution of viruses in wild and farmed crustaceans in order to better understand the emergence of novel diseases and potentially inform mitigation strategies and therapeutic treatments. You will be part of a large interdisciplinary team and receive training in bioinformatics, evolutionary genetics and experimental and ecological epidemiology in order to identify ancestral hosts of WSSV-like viruses and reconstruct their epidemiology using phylogenetic models. 

Using the latest molecular tools, you will analyse high-throughput sequencing datasets derived from existing tissue collections from wild portunid crabs sampled from shrimp farming regions (such as mangrove areas surrounding shrimp ponds in Thailand) to identify WSSV-like viruses with the potential to cause emerging diseases. Furthermore, you will experimentally test for variation in host susceptibility and aim to identify the genetic basis for variation in resistance with the ultimate aim to provide tools for the prevention, mitigation and treatment of WSSV and other novel emerging diseases in farmed crustaceans. 

Please click the 'apply' link below for full information about applying.

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Type / Role:

PhD

Location(s):

South West England