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BSc and MSc projects

BSc and MSc projects

We have the following 12 month placements available, commencing August 2018.  Students who are currently in their second year of a relevant undergraduate science degree are welcome to apply - please note you can apply for ONE project only.

Placements are unfunded but successful applicants will be offered free, self-catered housing on-site which includes all utility bills (apart from telephone and WiFi).

If English is not your first language, you will be required to provide evidence of your ability. We require an overall IELTS score of 7.0 with no lower than 7.0 in reading and listening, no lower than 6.5 in speaking and no lower than 6.0 in writing.  Other English language qualifications may be accepted.

To apply please email your CV (no more than two sides of A4) and a covering letter (detailing why you would like to undertake the placement and the knowledge and skills that you can bring to the Institute) to indicate clearly in your letter the reference number of the project you are applying for
Closing date: 22 January 2018.

Interviews will be held in February 2018.  Successful candidates will be required to pass a security vetting process before commencing the placement.

Project Title Summary

Ref:  01/AB
TItle: Generating and characterising fluorescently tagged-Birnaviruses


Supervisor: Andrew Broadbent;  Research Group: Birnaviruses

Birnaviruses are economically important veterinary viruses that infect birds, insects and fish, causing production losses in aquaculture and to the poultry industry. However, despite their importance, our understanding of how they cause disease is incomplete. Fluorescently tagged “reporter” viruses are important tools for studying the pathogenesis of viral diseases. We have made the first ever tagged reporter birnavirus and the aim of this project is to use it to study how birnaviruses interact with host cells in more detail using cell-culture, molecular biology techniques, confocal microscopy, live-cell imaging and in vivo studies. Full project details

Ref:  02/CC
Title: Exploring the environmental survival of foot-and-mouth disease virus     


Supervisor: Claire Colenutt;  Research Group: Transmission Biology

Foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) can be found in all secretions and excretions of infected animals and the likelihood of environmental contamination during outbreaks is very high. Persistence of FMDV in the environment and on fomites enables transmission routes beyond direct contact between infected and susceptible animals, potentially facilitating much wider spread of the disease if appropriate control measures are not implemented. Previous work at The Pirbright Institute has demonstrated that contaminated environments can serve as efficient routes for the transmission of FMDV.  Full project details

Ref:  03/RP
Title: African swine fever virus: research to support improved control

Supervisor: Raquel Portugal;  Research Group: ASF and NVRL

African swine fever (ASF) is an economically important disease of domestic pigs and wild boar. ASF is currently present in Africa, Sardinia, Russia, Trans Caucasus and Eastern Europe and there is a risk of further spread. The work proposed is part of a project funded by Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), whose key aim is to improve preparedness and control for ASF. The objectives of this current Defra project are to: 1) Investigate novel diagnostic tests for ASFV.  2) Investigate the role of environmental contamination in transmission. 3) Advance work leading to the development of ASFV vaccines. This placement will provide the successful student with a unique opportunity to work in an ISO/IEC 17025-accredited Reference Laboratory, and undertake multidisciplinary virology research in the state of the art high containment laboratories at The Pirbright Institute. The student will gain practical knowledge of advanced molecular biology techniques used for the detection of ASFV and also the opportunity to learn additional methods to measure immune responses to infection. Furthermore, this will also constitute an oportunity to participate in the writing of scientific papers to be published from this work. Full project details

Ref:  04/BH
Title: Correlates of influenza transmission

Supervisor: Barbara Holzer; Research Group:  Swine Influenza Immunology

The recent human pandemic in 2009 has emphasised the need to understand the biology of the influenza viruses that transmit between humans and pigs. During the pandemic in 2009, fear that pig viruses may infect people resulted in the widespread destruction of animals and trade bans caused economic losses to the US industry of <$1 billion. More informed management of pigs during human influenza virus epidemics requires more detailed understanding of virus transmission dynamics and the effects of transmission and vaccination on viral evolution. We have performed 12 controlled one to one transmission experiments in pigs in which donor infected animals were exposed to naïve recipients at different times to determine the period of infectiousness, the latent and incubation period for influenza virus infection. We have systematically collected samples from the upper respiratory tract and blood from these donor and recipient animals to identify correlates of transmission. Full project details

Ref:  05/MG
Title: BTV infection dynamics in migratory leukocyte populations


Supervisors: Marc Guimera, Katy Moffat;  Research Group: Orbivirus Research

Bluetongue virus (BTV) is an arbovirus (genus Orbivirus, family Reoviridae) that is transmitted to its ruminant host primarily by midges of the genus Culicoides (Mertens et al., 2004). BTV causes bluetongue, a severe haemorrhagic and economically important OIE notifiable disease of ruminants, especially sheep. In its ruminant host, BTV is known to target certain subsets of migratory leukocytes such as monocytes, certain subpopulations of T cells and more recently B cells (Darpel et al., 2012; Melzi et al., 2016). However, identifying specific infected cellular subsets in the blood or organ suspensions from infected animals has so far been hampered by the overall low number of infected cells as a proportion of total cell population, making normal flow cytometry protocols less effective as a tool. Here, we propose to address specific scientific questions by developing a flow cytometry based cell sorting protocol utilising the FACSAria cell sorter. For example, BTV replication dynamics are currently inferred from data obtained in model cell lines, which are not representative of natural target cells. Therefore, it is unknown if BTV replication follows similar patterns in these natural target cells. Additionally, we are lacking the ability to estimate BTV strain virulence ex-vivo as replication characteristics of avirulent and virulent strains in cell lines do not mirror the respective strain behaviour in-vivo. However, such strains may display a different replication behaviour in more relevant primary natural target cells, which would greatly enhance our ability to identify virulence markers of BTV strains. Full project details

Ref:  06/PC

Title: Production and characterisation of avian influenza H1 to H18 recombinant haemagglutinin proteins in Drosophila S2 cells for the development of rapid diagnostic tests

Supervisor:  Pengxiang Chang;  Research Group: Avian influenza virus group

Influenza A virus is classified based on the antigenic difference in the surface glycoproteins haemagglutin (HA) and neuraminidase (HA). Currently, there are 18 types of HA (H1-H18), of which H17 and H18 type influenza viruses are only found in bats. The haemagglutination-inhibition (HI) assay is a classical laboratory procedure to determine the antibody response of the host post influenza virus infection. However, influenza virus for the HI assay requires class II or even higher grade biological safety cabinet. Therefore, a substitution of influenza virus, which can be handled outside of the hood, is urgently needed. Here, we propose to express the recombinant HA protein in S2 cells so that it can be handled out of the safety cabinet. In addition to the HI assay, these HA proteins produced can be widely used as control for the ELISA and lateral flow device we are currently working on. Furthermore, the recombinant HA proteins will be a great resource to share with our collaborators.  Full project details



Scientists at the Institute may offer projects for students undertaking relevant taught MSc courses.  The minimum time that we can consider for such research projects is 3 months although 6-12 months is preferential.  Placements are unfunded although we can offer accommodation in our Institute housing at a significantly reduced rate.


The Government is introducing a loan scheme for MSc students from the 2018-19 academic year. Eligibility is based on nationality, residency and age.  Full details can be found on 

If you require further information, please contact Dr Lynda Moore, Head of Academic Affairs & Training (

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