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The dynamics of microbiome interactions.

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: BBSRC SWBio DTP funded CASE studentship available for September 2022 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,609 per annum for 2022-23, on a full time basis.
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 22nd October 2021
Closes: 6th December 2021
Reference: 4276

Over the last decade, there has been growing recognition that the microbiome plays a crucial role in the sustained health and fitness of its host. 

Now there is increasing focus on developing novel strategies to manage the microbiome to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges – for example, using microbiome transplants to improve human and animal health, secure sustainable food production and even combat climate change. The key to effective management of microbiomes is in predicting how interactions between highly complex microbial communities will play out. The problem is we do not yet have a clear understanding of these processes and, moreover, how these interactions affect host fitness.  

In this project we will use a model termite species, Zootermopsis angusticollis, that has a symbiotic relationship with its highly co-evolved gut microbiome to understand the dynamics of microbiome invasions. Microbiome transplants regularly occur in this species via trophallaxis among colony members and between colonies when competing colonies meet in the log resource in which they live and feed. Interacting colonies often fight to the death, but also regularly fuse into one cooperative team. We will use a combination of controlled experiments on our established lab population with ecological validation on wild colonies at field sites in California to understand complex interactions between microbial communities and the resultant effects on termite fitness. We will also develop and test new theory to formalise our predictions and underpin our empirical work. 

The project will be supervised by world leading experts in social evolution, microbial ecology and evolution, mathematics and genomic techniques. The project will generate fundamental, conceptually rich bioscience research with potential applications to address some of the biggest challenges facing our planet. 

Eligibility 

To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet both the academic and residence criteria. 

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover 

  • a stipend* at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £15,609 per annum for 2022-23
    •    research and training costs 
    •    tuition fees (at the standard Research Councils UK rate) 
    •    additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship 

Please refer to the regulations or Annex 1 of the Research Council Training Grant Guide to confirm that you meet the residence criteria for a fully-funded studentship.  Any further queries in relation to residency must be directed to the institution that you are applying to. 

* An enhanced stipend is available for students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£24,090 per annum for 2022-2023). There may also be enhanced stipends associated with projects that have a CASE partner (CASE projects are highlighted as *CASE in the project lists). 

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a 1st or 2:1 UK Honours degree, or equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.  Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Masters degree or significant relevant non-academic experience.  

In addition, a minimum of a grade B in A-level Maths or equivalent qualification or experience is required.  

Equivalent qualifications/experience  

  • Physics A-level (grade B and above) 
  • Undertaking units as part of your degree that have a significant mathematical component* 

* eg maths, statistics, bioinformatics.  

Applicants must highlight their Maths background within their application and upload any supporting evidence.  

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