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Cardiff University School of Biosciences PhD Studentship in Molecular Biosciences: A synthetic approach to gene drive (PhD Studentship)

Reference Number: R979
Closing Date: Closed for applications
Duration: 4 years to include taught element of Master of Research programme if applicant not already achieved a Master's degree
Level of Study: Postgraduate Research
Regions: EU (Non UK), UK
This funding opportunity is now closed for application

Cardiff University is pleased to announce the availabilty of an MRC funded industrial CASE PhD project in Molecular Biosciences: A synthetic approach to gene drive.

Project Description

Since insect genetic transformation was accomplished thirty years ago, a major research goal has been to develop methods to reduce the harm caused by insect disease vectors such as mosquitoes. One approach is to try to make the mosquitoes less able to transmit disease. To apply this to a wild mosquito population requires two components: (i) a gene or genes which will reduce the ability of the mosquitoes to transmit a specific pathogen and (ii) a means of spreading this gene through a wild population. Given that the genetic engineering required for (i) is likely to reduce the fitness of the mosquito that carries it, step (ii) is a major conceptual and practical challenge – how to spread a gene through a wild population in the face of natural selection. Considerable progress has been made towards the development of refractory genes (step i), but much less for gene drive systems (step ii), which are therefore the focus of this project.

We prefer relatively non-invasive gene drive systems with a relatively high invasion threshold; these can be developed based on original concepts from classical genetics [1-3]. Such systems are predicted to establish and maintain themselves in the target population, but be unable to invade adjacent populations. The student will take a synthetic biology approach to the development of such a system, developing and testing individual modular components which can be predictably combined to give the necessary genetic characteristics. These characterised modular components will have many uses beyond the specific gene drive system that is the nominal goal. The student initially develop and characterise the system in the well-known genetic model insect Drosophila melanogaster, allowing us to optimise components from non-insect sources in a tractable insect system, then proceed to more relevant vector species, initially Aedes aegypti. The supervisors have been highly successful in applying this development pathway to a previous challenge for translational synthetic biology – the development of genetic circuitry to provide robust dominant lethal conditional phenotypes in a range of insects, including disease vectors [e.g. 4-6]. Data from characterisation of components and prototype systems will inform population-genetic models of gene drive, which will in turn inform the development of improved genetic components and systems. We consider this project, using a rational synthetic approach, has potential to solve a decades-old problem.

Supervisors: Dr H White-Cooper, Dr L Alphey

Duration: 4 years (to include taught element of Master of Research programme if applicant not already achieved a Master's degree).

References

1 Serebrovsky, A. S. Zoologiheskii Zhurnal 19, 618-630 (1940).
2 Curtis, C. F. Nature 218, 368-369 (1968).
3 Davis, S. et al. J. theor. Biol. 212, 83-98 (2001).
4 Fu, G. et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 107, 4550-4554 (2010).
5 Phuc, H. K. et al. BMC Biol 5, 11 (2007).
6 Thomas, D. D. et al. Science 287, 2474-2476 (2000).


Funding

The award includes full UK/EU tuition fees plus a stipend matching the UK Research Council National Minimum (for full-time students in 2012/13 this was £13,590). To be eligible for fees and stipend applicants must be a UK national/ EU national who has been resident in the UK for three years prior to their application/ EU national who has migrant worker status. EU nationals who have not been resident in the UK for three years prior to application/ who do not have migrant worker status are eligible for fees only.


Eligibility

Academic Criteria

2:1 UK honours degree/equivalent or Master's degree

English language requirements

IELTS with overall score of 6.5 and minimum score of 5.5 in each skill area (or equivalent qualification)

Residency

To be eligible for fees and stipend applicants must be a UK national/ EU national who has been resident in the UK for three years prior to their application/ EU national who has migrant worker status. EU nationals who have not been resident in the UK for three years prior to application/ who do not have migrant worker status are eligible for fees only.


How to Apply

No separate application is necessary – consideration is automatic on applying for Doctor of Philosophy in the School of Biosciences (October 2013 start) through the normal university application portal.

Please indicate the project title (A synthetic approach to gene drive), the supervisor (Dr H White-Cooper) and the research centre (Molecular Biosciences) on your application in your research proposal and the funding section.

Application Deadline: 15 February 2013


Further Information

For more information please contact Swapna Khandavalli khandavallis@cardiff.ac.uk or +44 (0)29 2087 5243.



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