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Studentships 2020

The Pirbright Institute has 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 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 below.

Please note: Due to the current COVID-19 situation there are likely to be delays with recruitment - please email if you have any queries.


Residential Guidelines for Research Council Studentships:

For further information on residential eligibility for studentship funding please refer to Residential Eligibility Guidelines for Research Council Studentships

Ref Number/Closing Date PhD Project title Supervisors Abstract


Closing date: 27.03.20

PhD Studentship: 

The role of TGFβ on modulation of immune responses in Marek's disease

Dr Shahriar Behboudi, Dr Natalie RiddellDr Nitin Kamble

Regulatory T cells suppress many different immune cells and thus they are involved in immune modulation to inhibit inflammatory responses. Some pathogens activate expansion of regulatory T cells to escape immune control, however the mechanism involved in the induction and expansion of regulatory T cells by pathogens is not understood.

Marek’s disease virus causes a lymphoproliferative disease in chickens and causes transformation of lymphocytes. Our group has shown that infection with Marek’s disease virus induces expansion of a novel regulatory T cells in the infected chickens, and this may explain immunosuppression observed in these birds (Gurung et al. PLoS Pathogen 2017). We have also recently shown that Marek’s disease virus activates metabolic changes in the infected cells (Boodhoo et al. Journal of Virology 2019 and Boodhoo et al. Journal of Virology 2020). The studentship will investigate the mechanism involved in induction and activation of regulatory T cells by the virus and determine the role of metabolites produced by the infected cells in induction of regulatory T cells.  

A combination of cellular and molecular immunology as well as classical virology techniques including flow cytometry, confocal microscopy, metabolic analysis, molecular biology and gene silencing will be utilised in this project. Full details


Closing date:  15.04.20

PhD Studentship:

Understanding coronavirus replication using soft x-ray and electron tomography

Dr Helena MaierProf Pippa Hawes, Prof Jonathan Grimes, Dr Daniel Clare, Dr Maria Harkiolaki

Coronaviruses (CoV) are positive strand RNA (+RNA) viruses that cause important diseases in humans and livestock. As highlighted by the current SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) outbreak, CoVs can also cross the species barrier and therefore pose a significant threat to human health. A critical step of the CoV life cycle is the replication of viral RNA and, like all +RNA viruses, this process is closely associated with cellular membranes. CoVs rearrange host cell membranes to form the replication organelle (RO), providing an enclosed site to protect viral RNA. Our recent work has shown that the appearance CoV ROs is conserved, comprising double membrane vesicles (DMVs) and double membrane spherules (DMSs) tethered to modified endoplasmic reticulum (Fig. 1). However, current analyses have been unable to address several important questions, including how ROs form, how many exist within an infected cell, how ROs are connected to one another and the rest of the cell and whether DMVs and DMSs have different functions from one another.

A better understanding of this critical conserved stage of the CoV life cycle will underpin the development of unique One Health approaches to control CoV replication in several hosts. We hypothesise that CoV ROs form a complex, 3-dimensional membrane network within the cell, supported by a framework of proteins. Using our extensive experience working with avian CoV, infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), and expert knowledge of the IBV RO, the student will (i) generate recombinant viruses expressing tagged replicase proteins to allow direct visualisation of ROs (Pirbright), (ii) characterise the entire RO network in whole infected cells using soft x-ray tomography (B24, Diamond) and (iii) characterise ROs at high resolution using cryo-electron tomography (eBIC, Diamond). 

Please apply for this studentsip via the University of Oxford DTP website - please do not apply via The Pirbright Institute.  For full details and how to apply please visit the University of Oxford DTP website.


Closing date: 08.05.20

PhD Studentship:   

Improving vaccines for poultry: targeted delivery of multivalent viral antigens to distinct immune cells of different avian species

Prof Munir Iqbal, Prof Damer BlakeDr Jean-Remy Sadeyen, Prof Fiona Tomley

Avian influenza viruses (AIV) continue to be responsible for severe economic losses in poultry production in many parts of the world and remain a credible threat to food security and public health. Farmed ducks can serve as a silent reservoir for the maintenance and shuttle of AIV between domestic poultry and migratory birds for long distance spread. Vaccination of ducks against AIV can reduce and even halt the endemic cycle of the disease. However, we lack effective vaccines that can induce strong protective immunity and reduce shedding of infectious virus from infected ducks.

This PhD project proposes to develop a novel vaccine technology to deliver protective antigens directly to duck immune cells so that a strong protective immune response against AIV can be induced in vaccinated birds.  This research will utilise advanced molecular virology, immunology and vaccinology approaches: these include in silico prediction-based antigen design (broader cross-protective immunity against heterologous viruses), viral vector and nanoparticle-based vaccine delivery systems, and selective and targeted in situ delivery of antigens to duck immune cells that capture, process and present antigens for initiation and regulation of protective immune responses. Full details


Closing date: 08.05.20

PhD Studentship:

Defining antigenic structure of avian influenza virus haemagglutinin protein to generate broadly reactive antibodies

Dr Jean-Remy Sadeyen, Prof James Stewart, Prof Munir IqbalDr Joshua Sealy

Avian influenza viruses are an increasing threat to global poultry production and, through zoonotic infection, to human health where they are considered viruses with pandemic potential. Vaccination of poultry is a key element of disease control in endemic countries, but vaccine effectiveness is persistently challenged by the emergence of antigenic variants. Therefore, there is a need for more effective vaccines reducing the disease impacts on poultry and halting zoonotic transmission of virus to humans. This PhD project will design and develop broadly cross-protective vaccines by identifying conserved antigenic epitopes on the influenza virus surface glycoproteins and construct novel synthetic antigens that elicit broadly cross-protective immunity in chickens against multiple subtypes of avian influenza viruses affecting poultry.Full details

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

Partner Organisation/s Project Title Applications

How to apply:

See 'how to apply' page for details.

General enquiries can be emailed to

Studentships provide for tuition fees and stipend depending on eligibility (see project advert for details).


UK Posgraduate Doctoral Loans:

A Postgraduate Doctoral Loan (of up to £25,700) can help with course fees and living costs while you study a postgraduate doctoral course, such as a PhD.  Students in receipt of Research Council funding are not eligible.  Details can be found here.

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