FST24: Molecular systematic and epidemiological approaches to understanding neglected Amblyomma ticks and tick-borne zoonoses

Ticks transmit more pathogens to humans and animals than any other group of blood feeding arthropod. However, despite their public health importance in relation to the increasing global spread of emerging and re-emerging zoonotic diseases, ticks remain a neglected group of disease vectors. Accurate identification of tick species is problematic but essential for the study, control and prevention of tick-borne infections. Amblyomma ticks are one such group that are responsible for the transmission of several rickettsial and parasitic zoonoses that cause major disease in local communities and significant losses in livestock in southern Africa, which is complicated further by extensive wildlife reservoirs.

The aim of this project is to develop molecular tools to identify Amblyomma ticks, incriminate them as vectors and to use these techniques to monitor the distribution of ticks and associated infections in southern Africa. Existing Amblyomma collections will be used initially to develop a molecular phylogenetic framework for accurate identification of these ticks and PCR based techniques will be developed to screen ticks for the presence of a range of pathogens. The project will also involve field collections and epidemiological surveys of Amblyomma and the use of molecular phylogeographic approaches to disentangle the true epidemiological relationships between selected tick species and the diseases they transmit. The project will benefit from collaborations with North-West University and the University of the Free State, South Africa.

A background or strong interest in one or more of the following would be beneficial: molecular biology, parasitology, and evolutionary biology.

The student will receive training in relevant techniques/technologies and gain expertise in a number of key project planning and analytical research and subject specific skills. The student will also take part in the University Graduate School and Faculty Doctoral Research Development Programme (DRDP) including transferable skills (eg presentation skills, scientific writing and employability skills) which aid in their future career progression. The student will also be encouraged to join relevant learned societies, which provide excellent support for students in terms of training opportunities and meetings to disseminate and publish their research.

Further enquiries

Please contact Dr Polly Hayes, [email protected].


5pm on 10 February 2017

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Applications should be made to the Life Sciences MPhil/PhD programme and you should clearly state that you are applying for a Quintin Hogg Trust Scholarship and the Scholarship code (eg FST1) on your application.

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