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PhD Studentship: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD Studentship for 2024 Entry - Comparative Analysis and Modelling of Cilia Motility in a Major Disease-causing Parasite

University of Exeter - Department of Mathematics

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £18,622 p.a. for 2023-24
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 2nd November 2023
Closes: 9th January 2024
Reference: 4968

About the Partnership

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.

Project Background:

Schistosomiasis is a major water-borne disease that severely impacts human health, infecting 200 million people, leading to 200,000 deaths/year. This devastating parasitic disease is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is transmitted to humans through cercariae larvae in infected lakes/rivers. The parasite is a flatworm with an unusual life cycle. Once ejected from faeces (of infected mammals), schistosome eggs hatch to produce many motile larvae called miracidia which first infects an intermediate host – freshwater snails. This is a short-lived stage in which the larvae swims using a dense covering of cilia to locate the snail host (Fig.1), with naïve snails being preferred. After some time, the next stage – cercariae leave infected snails, and then proceed to infect various mammals (Fig.2). The entire cycle then begins anew. 

Much is known about the parasite’s cell and immunobiology, but little in terms of the physical mechanisms of infection. If we can better characterise and model how infection proceeds in the first instance in snails at a deep quantitative level, particularly the process of selection and migration towards the host, then this will ensure that we can better monitor the virulence of different strains. We will also be able to reveal any species-specific interactions between the intermediate host and parasite, and thus predict how these interactions may be affected by environmental perturbations, such as the warming global climate. This project is a unique opportunity to apply mathematical modelling, fluid dynamics and data analysis to a major environmental and global health challenge that is also rich in novel biology. 

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