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Interactions between parasitic helminths (macrobiota) and the gut microbiota in a wild rodent system

27 HM copulatory bursa 20x 000916_001The composition, structure and function of the gut microbiota is an area of intensive research, owing to links between this community of microorganisms and human health. The microbial community of the mammalian gut (microbiota) is intricately linked with the macrobiome (parasitic worms, primarily helminths) although the implications of this interaction in terms of biome composition and host health are currently unknown.

Within the coinfection literature interactions between parasites has been well studied, but the potential interplay between macroparasites and non-pathogenic microbiota have so far not been investigated. There is, however, evidence to suggest that helminths may play a direct role in microbiota composition by acting as vectors of bacteria (Perkins & Fenton, 2006). Thus, to establish the role of helminths in shaping the microbiota, and ultimately host health, we need to investigate the bacteria-helminth association.

closeupThis studentship will investigate this association in wild rodents, a well-established model for parasitological studies in which the gut microbiota interacts with naturally-occurring parasitic helminths. Wild rodents live in close association with humans, are a model in the laboratory for disease biology and immunology and harbour zoonotic infections of human health significance. As such, interactions between the macro- and microbiota could produce a new dynamic to the intestinal niche, which has fundamental implications for our current concepts of intestinal homeostasis. Previous work by Perkins with CASE partners (Fondazione Edmund Mach) has established, using next generation sequencing a dataset of the gut microbial community of wild rodents. Using this established dataset of both micro-and macrobiota from wild rodents the student will use an ecological approach to apply statistical and mathematical modelling to investigate:

  1. The community composition and structure of gut bacteria (microbiota) in relation to gut helminths (macrobiota) in wild rodents.
  2. How components of the macro and microbiota are structured and interact to influence emerging zoonotic pathogens; including rodent-borne pathogens with a known distribution in wild sampled populations, e.g. TBEv, cowpox, MHV, LCMV and Ljungan virus.

The student will join an active group of disease ecologists at Cardiff University. In addition they will be supported and trained by Dr. Ben Adams (Bath) and Dr. Jo Lello (Cardiff) in mathematical and statistical modelling. Although using an existing dataset the student will spend time (to be determined dependent on student’s previous experience) at the Fondazione Edmund Mach (FEM) in Italy with Dr. Heidi Hauffe and Dr. Perkins to gain insight and experience of how the data are collected. Dr. Perkins and Hauffe have extensive experience (15+ years) working with parasite infections in wild rodents. FEM are a CASE partner offering an additional £1,000 per annum support to the student.

Supervisors: Dr. Sarah Perkins (Cardiff), Dr. Ben Adams (Bath) & Dr. Jo Lello (Cardiff)

For information on how to apply, click here

Start date: 1 October 2015

DEADLINE for applications is 15th Jan 2015

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