PhD Studentship: Microsporidia and Sources of Emergent Infection in the Environment

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The NERC GW4+ DTP involves the four research-intensive universities across the South West – Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter – and six Research Organisation partners. For further details about the programme please see

Studentships will be awarded on the basis of merit and will commence in September 2014. For eligible students the award will cover UK/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend (in 2013/14 this was £13,726 for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students) for three and a half years.


Dr Bryony Williams, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Dr Grant Stentiford, Centre of Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science

Kelly Bateman, Centre of Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science

Project description:  The microsporidian Enterocytozoon bieneusi is one of the most common microbes found in AIDS-associated diarrhea and additionally has a prevalence of 6.3% prevalence in the general human population. It clearly has the potential to be a zoonotic infection as it is found in a broad range of vertebrates in different environments including cats, pigs, gorillas, baboons and wildfowl. Curiously however, E. bieneusi is phylogenetically nested within the Enterocytozoonidae clade of parasites with exclusively marine hosts including a mixture of crabs, shrimps and marine fish. This raises the question of whether organisms within the Enterocytozoonidae, including E. bieneusi, have intermediate hosts within the crustacea and cycle between vertebrate and invertebrate host. If this is the case, marine invertebrates may harbour uncovered Enterocytozoonidae that potentially or actually infect humans and other mammalian hosts. Equally, there may exist a large diversity of Enterocytozoonidae microsporidia that presently infect humans but have not discovered by current testing methods.

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This studentship will sample the diversity of microsporidia in distinct environments: 1) The rocky shore, where we do not expect where we do not expect human-derived infections to occur naturally 2) Human contaminated areas such as rivers heavily rivers near to large conurbations and sewage plants, where expect to find human-derived infections.

The student will use in-house MiSeq sequencing techniques to profile the microsporidia harboured by rocky shore invertebrates and the dormant microsporidian spores from human-contaminated sediment. This will employ primers specific a broad diversity of microsporidia and more specific to the members Enterocytozoonidae clade (Similar screening methods have been optimised during work for NERC-funded new investigator grant). This will allow us to profile the full diversity of Enterocytozoonidae in each environment. Further work will use a combination size fractionation of Rocky shore invertebrates and fluorescent in situ hybridisation to establish the origins of specific infections.

This will address the following key questions:

  • Do human E. bieneusi infections originate from an invertebrate host and what is this host?
  • What is the full diversity of microsporidia parasites in the Enterocytozoonidae and how many of these currently infect humans?

The closing date for applications is midnight Friday 10 January 2014. Interviews are expected to take place in February.

For further information, please visit the Apply button below. 

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