PhD Studentship: Elucidating Population Structures of an Emerging Pathogen Affecting Global Fisheries

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Main Supervisor:  Dr Mark van der Giezen, Biosciences

Co-Supervisor: Dr Stephen Short, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University

Co-Supervisor:  CASE partner, Dr Grant Stentiford and Dr Kelly Bateman, Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)

Global farmed and wild caught crustaceans add 10bn kg to protein production a year with first sale value of >£20bn. However, disease limits future growth and sustainability. Pathogens such as the dinoflagellate Hematodinium are the most significant factor limiting food security in this sector (Stentiford et al 2014).

Hematodinium is lethal to its host (Stentiford and Shields 2005). However, our studies revealed differential host responses to distinct isolates. Some isolates induced no immune response, resulting in severe parasitaemia, while for others, the host responded and resisted infection (Daniels et al., unpubl.). Current genetic markers cannot separate strains and tools to discriminate disease and non-disease-causing forms do not exist. Sequencing Hematodinium genomes is not feasible due to genome size. However, a powerful next generation sequencing method, RADSeq, can reveal genome-wide genetic markers without whole genome sequencing (see Davey et al. 2011).

Overall aim:

This project will enable the discrimination between emerging virulent and non-virulent strains of the major crustacean parasite Hematodinium. This is a direct requirement when defining pathogens in a legislative context and will protect UK fisheries.


  1. Discriminate between virulent and non-virulent Hematodinium strains in order to provide strain specific markers and allow regulators to make informed decisions regarding border protection against movement of pathogenic strains.
  2. Investigate the molecular basis of divergent immune responses to Hematodinium isolates. This will enhance our understanding of crustacean immunity and inform strategies for producing infection-resistant stocks.

Candidate: The candidate is ambitious and wants to make a positive change to our world which faces a multitude of challenges. The applicant ideally has an animal biology background with molecular experience and knowledge of mathematical modeling would be a strong plus. Overall, the candidate needs to be a team player.

The project fits Cefas’ Food Security Directorate science plan to 2020, particularly the Aquatic Animal Health Science Theme. Cefas focuses strongly on detection and description of aquatic animal pathogens in support of UK trade policies. Hematodinium recently emerged in global aquaculture and is a significant pathogen of wild (fished) crustaceans. Little is known about its genome or host interaction. A focus on that aspect of Hematodinium life history is pertinent and may lead to control strategies to protect UK trade.  

3.5 year studentship: UK/EU/International tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at the Research Council rate of £14,553 per year.                   

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South West England