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Award details

University of Exeter funding: BBSRC SWBio DTP PhD studentship

Physiological capacity of hibernating bats and implications for immunity and viral load PhD in Biosciences Studentship (BBSRC SWBio DTP funded) Ref: 3980

About the award

Supervisors

Lead Supervisor

Dr Orly Razgour, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors

  • Prof Nicholas Harmer, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
  • Dr Lucy Hawkes, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
  • Prof Tony Fooks (Animal and Plant Health Authorities)
  • Dr Hugo Rebelo (Research Centre in Biodiversity and genetic Resources (CIBIO), University of Porto).

Location: Streatham/St Luke's Campus, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon 

The SWBio DTP is one of the 12 Doctoral Training Partnerships funded by the BBSRC to provide PhD training in areas of their strategic relevance.  The SWBio DTP is a consortium comprising the Universities of Bristol (lead), Bath, Cardiff, Exeter, and Rothamsted Research. Together, these institutions present a distinctive cadre of bioscience research staff and students with established international, national and regional networks and widely recognised research excellence.

The aim of this DTP is to produce highly motivated and excellently trained postgraduates in the BBSRC priority areas of Agriculture & Food Security (AFS) and World-Class Underpinning Bioscience (WCUB). These are growth areas of the biosciences and for which there will be considerable future demand.

The award:

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP)

Project Description:

This project will use an exciting combination of field work in Portugal and molecular and biochemistry techniques to understand the effect of hibernation on viral infection of bats. Bats are hosts of zoonotic diseases that can present increasing risks to global human health, as exemplified by COVID-19. Key to understanding risk of disease spread is a robust knowledge of the physiological capacity of bats to store and spread zoonotic pathogens. This studentship will investigate one such aspect of bat physiology – the expression of torpor. The majority of temperate insectivorous bat species hibernate during the winter months to reduce the cost of defending high body temperature in the face of declining ambient temperatures and variable food supply. During hibernation animals can manipulate their body temperature to control pathogens. Wide variations in temperature and cellular activity could affect interactions between hosts and their pathogens, and may help reduce or even eliminate pathogens[1]. Hence, changes in the frequency, length and depth of torpor bouts can affect pathogen load in bats. The propensity of bats to hibernate is related to environmental conditions, such that bats are more likely to hibernate in cooler temperatures. Insectivorous bats that hibernate in unpredictable environments can show plasticity in their thermoregulatory responses and behaviour[2].

This interdisciplinary studentship will use a natural experiment of bat hibernaculas in different environments in Portugal to investigate the winter thermoregulatory physiology of bats and how it affects immune function and virus load. Given that winter temperatures in the UK are predicted to rise over the next few decades, it is important to understand how changes in hibernation are likely to impact viral load and prevalence in bats.

We are looking for a candidate with a strong background in biological sciences and a keen interest in physiology and interdisciplinary research to develop the following objectives:

1. Use field physiological approaches to quantify differences in torpor length and depth and physiological
status of bats in hibernacula in warmer Mediterranean versus cooler Atlantic regions.

2. Use flow cytometry and blood enzyme assays to determine impacts of changes in hibernation patterns on
immune functions.

3. Use molecular approaches to assess differences in virus load and prevalence between hibernating and
non-hibernating bats.


References
[1] Burton & Reichman 1999, Func.
Ecol. 13:232–237
[2] Wojciechowski et al. 2007, Comp.
Biochem. Phys. A 147:828-840

Eligibility

To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet both the academic and residence criteria. 

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover

•    a stipend* at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £15,285 per annum for 2020-2021
•    research and training costs
•    tuition fees (at the standard Research Councils UK rate)
•    additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship

Please refer to the regulations or Annex 1 of the Research Council Training Grant Guide to confirm that you meet the residence criteria for a fully-funded studentship.  Any further queries in relation to residency must be directed to the institution that you are applying to.

* An enhanced stipend is available for students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£23,164 per annum for 2019-2020). There may also be enhanced stipends associated with projects that have a CASE partner (CASE projects are highlighted as *CASE in the project lists).

Residence criteria

UKRI have recently updated their policy for funded studentships which starts from the 2021/2022 academic year.
IMPORTANT: Please refer to the UKRI Full Eligibility Criteria alongside the information provided below.

Home students

Fully-funded studentships are available for Home students.  To be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:
• Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
• Have settled status, or
• Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirement) or,
• Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

International students

If you do not meet the above criteria, you will be classed as an International student.
A limited number (up to 30%) of UKRI fully-funded studentships are available through the SWBio DTP, that applicants who would be classed as an International student are eligible for.  Please apply through our normal application route.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.  Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Masters degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

In addition, due to the strong mathematical component of the taught course in the first year and the quantitative emphasis in our projects, a minimum of a grade B in A-level Maths or an equivalent qualification or experience is required.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.5 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable, please see  http://www.bristol.ac.uk/study/language-requirements/profile-c/.

Equivalent qualifications/experience

  • Physics A-level (grade B and above)
  • Undertaking units as part of your degree that have a significant mathematical component*

*Significant mathematical component examples include; maths, statistics, bioinformatics.

Applicants must ensure they highlight their Maths background within their application and to upload any supporting evidence.

How to apply

Please be aware you will be asked to upload the following documents:

  • CV
  • Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.  Please indicate your preferred project choice if applying for multiple BBSRC SWBio DTP projects.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • Two academic referees - see information below about references.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English (see entry requirements above)

The closing date for applications is midnight on Monday, 7 December 2020. Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter between w/c 25 January - w/c 1st February 2021.

Reference information
You will be asked to name 2 referees as part of the application process, however we will not expect receipt of references until after the shortlisting stage. Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that your two academic referees email their references to the pgr-recruitment@exeter.ac.uk, 7 days prior to the interview dates.  Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the deadline.

References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter. Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts. We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk.

Project-specific queries should be directed to the primary supervisor.

Selection process:

Please note, the studentship selection process will take place in two stages:

1.     The project supervisors will consider your application and may invite you to visit for an informal interview. You can apply for more than one BBSRC SWBio DTP project, although supervisors may take into account your interest and commitment to their particular project.  If you apply for multiple projects, please indicate your preferred project choice in your letter of application.  Each application for an individual project will be considered separately by the project supervisors.

2.     After closure of applications, each supervisory team will then nominate their preferred applicant.  A shortlist will be selected from these nominations and shortlisted applicants will be invited for interview on a selection day at the University of Bristol.  Please note that nomination by a project supervisor therefore does not guarantee the award of a studentship.
 

Data Protection
During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

  •     the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme,   
        which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
  •    administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.

Summary

Application deadline:7th December 2020
Value:Tuition fees and an annual stipend allowance at Research Council rates, currently £15,285 per year for 2020-21
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Recruitment Office pgrenquiries@exeter.ac.uk