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PhD Studentship: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD Studentship for 2024 Entry - Understanding the Dynamics of Bovine Tuberculosis Infection in Wild Badgers

University of Exeter - Department of Clinical and Biomedical Sciences

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: 4973

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

Infectious diseases can result in significant welfare and conservation costs to wild animal populations, and where they infect livestock or are zoonotic they can also have substantial impacts on the farming industry and public health respectively. For example, bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is zoonotic and an important disease of cattle in many parts of the world. In the UK a reservoir of infection in European badgers presents particular challenges for management of the disease in cattle. Understanding the dynamics of transmission in wild and domesticated animal populations is highly challenging, since key epidemiological events (such as infection) are not observed directly, with information only available through some imperfect proxy measure such as the results of diagnostic tests. In wildlife populations these challenges are further exacerbated because it is difficult to monitor the population, with surveillance efforts often relying on finding carcasses or trapping live animals. This results in a substantial missing data issue, which is challenging to deal with when trying to fit transmission models to the available data. In Woodchester Park in Gloucestershire in south-west England, a long-term field study has been running for over 40 years, consisting of routine capture-mark-recapture sampling of badgers, alongside deployment of a suite of diagnostic tests for bTB, and more recently including the collection of host and pathogen genotyping information. The result is a unique dataset that has provided unprecedented insights into the ecology of badgers and the epidemiology of bTB in a wild mammal population. The current project will build on recent advances in the field of statistical inference for complex infectious disease systems to explore important epidemiological questions regarding the dynamics of bTB in a wild badger population.

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