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Tracking pathogen transmission on contact networks in real time

Duration/Funding of the PhD: 4 years

Start date of the PhD: 1st October 2015

Main supervisor: Dr Sarah Perkins (School of Biosciences, Cardiff University)

Second supervisor: Professor Jo Cable (School of Biosciences, Cardiff University)

Professor Mark Viney (School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol)

Shining light on pathogen transmission: An elusive, but important, predictor of epidemic spread is the process by which a pathogen moves between hosts; known as transmission. The manner by which infections progress in a population depends upon individual variation. From our work using social network theory we know that some individuals are highly connected (super-spreaders) and others are highly infectious (super-shedders), but we do not know why, who they are, and how intervention alters pathogen spread and network patterns. The reasons for the unknowns are that during epidemics, contact patterns, exposure rates and uninfected individual behaviour are rarely or incompletely recorded, and pathogen detection is often unreliable. As a solution, we have developed two host-parasite laboratory systems (Galleria mellonella-bacteria and C. elegans-bacteria) where we can continuously track interactions of known individuals using behavioural software. Simultaneously we use reporter bacteria to track each individuals infection status in real-time and in vivo at a fine temporal scale; as such we can ‘see’ pathogen transmission and from this build transmission networks. This systems biology approach can be manipulated to provide novel insight into epidemic progress and develop intervention strategies.

This studentship will address 3 main aims:
1. Determine how individual variation in contacts alters pathogen transmission.
2. Identify the mechanisms altering individual variation in pathogen transmission, and how they may interplay to affect one another.
3. Develop disease control strategies by assessing how intervention alters pathogen spread and network contact patterns.

Student training and year 1 rotation:
Culture and manipulation of C. elegans, and literature review – University of Bristol (Prof. Mark Viney). Months 1-3.

Training in microbiology, use of lux reporters and imaging with our partners – Biosensors group at University of West England (Prof. Vyv Salisbury). Months 3-6.

At Cardiff University (months 6-12) the student will join a group of disease biologists (CRIPES) who meet fortnightly to discuss research, engage in workshops resulting in joint grants or publications (e.g. Chadwick et al. 2013), talk informally with invited speakers, and conduct engagement activities. The student will present their work at meetings and conferences and they will be trained to write papers and respond to reviewer’s comments. In addition, to weekly meetings with supervisors and completion of 6-monthly assessments, the student will be enrolled in the Cardiff University Graduate College and will attend an advanced course on statistics in ‘R’ and complementary skills courses that have benefited our previous students e.g., ‘introduction to research skills’.

Applications are invited from graduates who possess at least 2.1 Honours or Master’s degree in biology, biochemistry, biomedical, genetics or other relevant discipline.

To apply, please email your CV, 2 referees and relevant academic qualifications along with a covering letter to Dr Sarah Perkins at ‘‘ AND also submit an online application at the following University’s online portal by selecting ‘Doctor of Philosophy (Biosciences – BBSRC funded) (October Start):

Informal enquiries are also encouraged: please contact Dr Sarah Perkins at ‘‘ or Professor Jo Cable at ‘‘. For further details, please visit:

DEADLINE is 9th Jan 2015

Funding Notes:

This BBSRC SWBIO DTP funded studentship includes UK/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend of at least £13,863. EU applicant who do not meet the residency criteria will be eligible for fees only award.