Microbiology: Funded PhD Studentship: Microbiome characterization guides the development of novel pest control strategies

  • Phd
  • Full cost of UK/EU tuition fees, plus a stipend
  • 31 July 2017

Funded PhD Studentship: Microbiome characterization guides the development of novel pest control strategies: Lessons derived from F. occidentalis microbial symbionts.
Subject areas: Insect symbionts, Genomics, Microbiology, Bioinformatics
Swansea University is a UK top 30 institution for research excellence (Research Excellence Framework 2014), and has been named Welsh University of the Year 2017 by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide.
This studentship is funded by BASF SE.
Start date: October 2017
Insects substantially contribute to natural and man-managed ecosystems, with both positive (e.g. plant pollination) and negative (e.g. pests and disease vectors) effects. The latter in particular has profound socio-economic implications for human health and food security. Current intensive agriculture practice relies heavily on the use of continued pesticide application to control pest population density in order to maintain crop yield and market-value of produce. Such control prevents direct damage to crops caused by insect pests and insect-borne diseases. However, the reliance on these pesticides is rapidly transiting from a solution to a serious problem with wide-ranging impacts on the local ecology and human health. The inability of current pesticides to target insects with high specificity, together with the emergence of resistance and the long persistence of toxic chemical byproducts in the soil, highlights the urgent need for novel strategies to cope with highly invasive insect pests whilst preserving the integrity and biodiversity of surrounding habitats. An emerging strategy to complement current pest control tools is to employ microorganisms that colonise insect pests as strict or facultative symbionts. 
In light of this, the project will focus on characterising the gut microbiome of the global insect pest, Western Flower Thrips, (Frankliniella occidentalis). It has been hypothesised that the presence of certain symbionts within this insect are key to host fitness, fecundity and development – thus manipulation of the host microbiome may lead to the development of novel control methods. The successful candidate will work on characterising the F. occidentalis microbiome using culture-dependent and culture independent methods, in combination with a next generation sequencing platform; expanding on previous work conducted within the group (e.g. Whitten et al., 2016; Facey et al., 2015).  It is envisaged that scrutinising the microbiome in such fine detail will offer insights into crucial symbiont-host interactions that could be disrupted and used as novel control methods.


Applicants should have an MSc or excellent first class or upper second class honours degree in Biochemistry, Genetics, Molecular Microbiology or a related subject.
Essential Criteria:
It is essential that applicants have experience in aseptic microbiological techniques and standard molecular biology methods – incl. DNA isolation, PCR, gel electrophoresis. The applicant should be proficient in giving oral presentations, manipulating large datasets using bioinformatics tools and be willing to attend and present their work at relevant conferences.
Desirable criteria:
It is desirable that applicants have a demonstrable understanding of bioinformatics analysis – in particular Next Generation Sequencing, bacterial genome assembly, 16S metagenetic profiling and phylogenetic reconstruction, and willingness to contribute to insect husbandry.
Due to funding restrictions, this studentship is open to UK/EU candidates only.


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The studentship covers the full cost of UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual stipend of £14,800. There is also up to £1,000 available for other expenses.


Please visit our website for more information.

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