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Studentships 2018

The Pirbright Institute has recently formed partnerships with a number of different universities and companies in the UK to offer a selection of exciting studentships studying viral infections of animals.

These new partnerships offer students an exceptional opportunity to obtain a broad view of infectious disease research in a rich, stimulating and unique research environment. Students will have the opportunity to work with the different partners involved in their project, thereby giving them access to novel ways of tackling the problems of livestock diseases through interdisciplinary, cross-institutional approaches. This will be coupled to core skills training at the student’s host institutions, providing flexible training options and experiences that will support a wide range of career choices.

Applications are therefore invited for these studentships as detailed in the tables below.

Government loans likely to be available for new PhD students from 2018-19

The Government is introducing a loan scheme for new PhD students from the 2018-19 academic year.  Eligibility is based on nationality, residency and age. Students in receipt of Research Council funding are not eligible.

The loan will be for up to £25,000, and spread over the three to four years of the PhD.

Full details can be found on

RCUK Residential Guidelines for Research Council Studentships

For further information on residential eligibility guidelines please refer to RCUK residential guidelines for Research Council studentships


Ref number Project title Supervisors Abstract

Single cell sequencing to explore chicken B cell immune responses

PhD Studentship: The Pirbright Institute, University of Surrey

Prof Venugopal Nair OBE, Prof Deborah Dunn-Walters, William Mwangi

Antibodies produced in response to infection/vaccination are key in protection against diseases. Compared to the most species where the antibody repertoire is generated by V, D and J recombination, chickens achieve this by gene conversion using multiple upstream V pseudogenes. Studies on the dynamics of the antibody-mediated immune responses are hampered by the absence of quantitative, high-throughput systems to analyse individual antibody-secreting cells. Recent advances in microfluidic systems and next generation sequence analysis have enabled the prospects of examining the B-cell repertoire of single B cells.

The major aim of this project is to determine the antibody repertoire of chickens vaccinated with the highly immunogenic fusion (F) protein of Newcastle disease virus using single cell sequencing of B cells with the Dolomite Bio microencapsulation system. The project, built on the combined virology and immunology expertise at Pirbright and Surrey, will give excellent opportunity for a motivated student to acquire the knowledge for undertaking innovative bioscience research in the field of molecular immunology. The application of cutting edge technologies including single B-cell sequencing to analyse the complexity of the B-cell repertoire in avian species in response to vaccination will help in determining the antigenic epitopes on the virus, paving way for developing improved vaccines using structural vaccinology approaches. Full details and how to apply


Characterisation of the infectious bronchitis virus E protein for rational vaccine design

PhD Studentship: The Pirbright Institute, University of Bristol

Dr Erica Bickerton, Dr Andrew Davidson, Dr Helena Maier

Infectious bronchitis is the most economically important infectious disease affecting chickens in the UK and affects not only the production of meat-type birds but also the quality and production levels of eggs from layer and breeder birds. The causative agent, infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), is a coronavirus prevalent in all types of poultry flocks globally and continues to be responsible for economic losses and welfare problems in chickens.

The IBV Envelope (E) protein is a small structural protein located within the virion membrane containing a single hydrophobic domain that has been shown to be important for the release of infectious virus from cells and a cytoplasmic tail with Golgi targeting information.  The E protein, while only a minor component of the virus envelope, has been shown to possess ion channel activity and the ability to disrupt protein trafficking in vitro.  A recent paper demonstrated that the E protein of the related coronavirus SARS-CoV is important in promoting virus fitness and pathogenesis.  Full details and how to apply


Tegumentation - the black box of alphaherpesvirus assembly

PhD Studentship: The Pirbright Institute; University of Surrey

Dr Pippa Hawes, Professor Gill Elliott, Dr Linda Dixon

Alphaherpesviruses represent a significant health and economic burden worldwide. They infect animals and humans, causing diseases ranging from cold sores or chickenpox in humans, to respiratory or neurological symptoms and abortion in cattle and horses. Despite their importance, current therapy is limited and new approaches are vital to stop infection and transmission.

The alphaherpesvirus particle is a complex structure comprising over 40 virus proteins, and the nature of its assembly is poorly understood. The aim of this project is to undertake sophisticated cell biology studies of infected cells using state-of-the art microscopy, time lapse imaging and gene editing technology to tease apart specific stages of virus assembly and identify virus and cell factors that are crucial to this process. The student will be trained in confocal, super-resolution and electron microscopy and will utilise fluorescently tagged viruses to carry out live cell studies of at least two alphaherpesviruses.  Full details and how to apply


Regulation and function of chicken NKT cells in response to Avian Influenza virus

PhD Studentship: The Pirbright Institute; University of Surrey; University of Guelph

Dr Shahriar Behboudi, Dr Dan Horton, Dr Holly Shelton, Professor Shayan Sharif

Natural killer T (NKT) cells, an innate-like T cells, are a distinct population of T cells that express aβ T-cell receptor (TCR) and. Unlike conventional T cells, which mainly recognise peptide antigens presented by MHC molecules, NKT cells recognise glycolipid antigens presented by the non-polymorphic MHC class I-like molecule, CD1d.  Mammalian NKT cells recognise the prototypical glycolipid, alpha–galactosylceramide (alpha-GalCer), a marine-sponge-derived agent, which also potently activates them and has strong anti-viral activity. Human NKT cells are either CD4+, CD8+ or CD4-CD8- (DN) and express Va24-Ja18 TCRa chain preferentially coupled with a Vβ11 TCRβ chain. Full details and how to apply


Closing date: 09.03.18

Structural analysis of the cattle antibody repertoire

PhD Studentship: The Pirbright Institute; University of Oxford; Diamond Light Source Ltd

Prof John Hammond, Prof Ray Owens, Prof Dave Stuart

Antibodies are the fundamental humoral component of adaptive immunity and different species have evolved alternative strategies to generate antibody sequence diversity. In contrast to human and mice, germ-line immunoglobulin variable region gene diversity in cattle is highly limited. The antibody repertoire is derived from a single polymorphic VH gene family and is dominated by one of two VL gene families. V region diversification in cattle is generated following VDJ, VJ segment rearrangement and somatic hyper-mutation. A unique feature of the antibody response in cattle is the generation of a subset (10 %) of heavy chains that have a highly extended Complementary Determining Region (CDR) 3 sequences of over sixty residues. This compares to an average of 20 residues for most bovine heavy chains which in itself is longer than in other species such as human and mouse. It has been proposed that these unique structures can recognise epitopes that would remain invisible to human or mouse antibodies. Hence there is high interest in bovine-derived antibodies as potential immune-therapeutics. Understanding the structural basis of bovine antibody assembly and antigen-binding will provide insights not only into the biological mechanism that generates diversity, but also enable future studies in vaccine design and antibody discovery, for both veterinary and medical research.  

For full details and to apply please visit:  University of Oxford DTP - Diamond Studentships  (Please do not apply via The Pirbright Institute)

Ref number Project title Supervisors Abstract


The Pirbright Institute also has the following studentships which should be applied for through our partner organisations.

Further information

The studentship provides for tuition fees and stipend depending on eligibility (see full project details accessible through the tables above).

How to apply

See the 'how to apply' section for further information.

General enquiries can be emailed to

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