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Award details

University of Exeter funding: BBSRC SWBio DTP PhD studentship

Understanding insecticide detoxification in key hoverfly pollinator guilds. Biosciences PhD CASE studentship (BBSRC SWBio DTP funded) Ref: 3990

About the award


Lead Supervisor

Dr Karl Wotton, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors

Prof Chris Bass, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Dr. Ralf Nauen, Bayer

Location: University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Cornwall TR10 9FE

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:

Chemical insecticides have been used to control insect pests for many decades and remain essential to ensure a supply of affordable food and as part of disease vector control for the foreseeable future. A key requirement for the development of 4/94 insecticides is that they are pest specific and not harmful to the main pollinator species which play an essential  role in ensuring production of seeds in a remarkable range of flowering plants. Recent research on three managed bee species, namely western honeybees, Apismellifera, buf f-tailed bumble bees, Bombusterrestris, and red mason bees, Osmiabicornis, has demonstrated that specific enzymes can also be critically important in determining the sensitivity of bees to insecticides. Specifically, cytochrome P450 enzymes belonging to the CYP9Q and CYP9BU subfamilies have been shown to provide protection to certain insecticides from three different classes including N-cyanoamidine neonicotinoids. This leads to an important question – is the presence of insecticide-degrading P450s universal to all pollinator species, and if not, what are the implications for insecticide sensitivity in species that lack these enzymes?

Hoverflies are an important family of pollinators known to visit over half of globally important food crops worth a combined US $300 million to the global economy each year. In addition, they provide ecosystem services not found in bees, related to their a phidophagous or saprophagous larval stages. These stages expose these guilds to unique selective pressures on enzymes to detoxify chemicals found in these environments. This studentship aims to develop a detailed molecular and biochemical understanding of how insecticides interact with the aphidophagous marmalade hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus and the saprophagous dronefly Eristalis tenax. Such understanding will allow the molecular basis of differential selectivity within different chemical classes of commercial insecticides to be elucidated and so facilitate the rational design of novel pollinator- safe compounds. Furthermore, such 5 / 94 information will help to develop molecular tools to classify, optimise and improve early candidate selection as well as the synthesis of pest selective compounds.

The student will be trained in a variety of state-of-the-art approaches that are highly sought after by employers in academia and industry including molecular approaches and bioinformatics. The student will be based in a thriving research environment comprising multiple PhD students and postdoctoral researchers and will also benefit from exposure to industry through the CASE partner Bayer.


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

A fully-funded fur year SWBio DTP studentship will cover.

•    a stipend* at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £15,285 per annum for 2020-21
•    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

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 Bristol between between 25th January - 5th February 2021.

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

If you are shortlisted for interview, please ensure that you two academic referees email their references to the, at least 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

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.


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