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BSc and MSc projects

BSc and MSc projects

We have the following Year-In-Industry placements available, commencing August 2019.   We welcome applications from students who are currently in their second year of a relevant undergraduate science degree – please note you may apply for ONE position only.

Placements will be either unfunded but with on-site housing provided (including all utility bills apart from phone/wi-fi), or offered with a £5,000 scholarship.

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.  Successful candidates will be required to pass a security vetting process before commencing the placement.

To apply please email your CV (no more than two sides of A4) to Yvonne Walsh (, with a covering letter detailing why you would like to undertake the placement and the knowledge and skills that you will bring to the Institute. Closing date: 28 January 2019.

Reference No. Project Title Summary

Developing a hand-held test to assess foot and mouth disease virus vaccine integrity; Andrew Shaw, Dr Caroline Wright, Dr Stephen Berryman

Foot and mouth disease (FMD), caused by FMD virus (FMDV), is among the most infectious diseases of cloven hoofed livestock in the world, resulting in severe trade restrictions as well as loss of production. In regions where FMDV is endemic, outbreaks are controlled using vaccination. However, high quality inactivated vaccines are crucial for an effective vaccination campaign. In turn, the quality of an FMDV vaccine is dependent on the quality of the FMDV particles from which it is made. Along with a molecule of RNA, mature, intact FMDV particles (referred to as 146S) each contain 60 copies of four proteins: VP1-VP4. Whilst immunogenic, 146S capsids are unstable and disassemble at low pH and/or raised temperatures, yielding capsid subunits (pentamers, 12S) comprising only VP1-VP3. Importantly, in contrast to 146S particles, 12S pentamers have greatly reduced immunogenicity. Given the lack of VP4 in 12S pentamers, an assay which is able to detect its presence or absence will provide a quantitative indication of vaccine quality. An antibody named 5B6 has been isolated that targets a conserved epitope on the VP4 protein of every FMDV serotype and strain. This 5B6 antibody therefore provides an ideal candidate reagent for developing assays to assess FMDV vaccine quality, regardless of strain. Full details


Inactivating exotic viruses of livestock for the preparation of standardised reference materials; Lorraine Frost, Dr John Flannery, Dr Paulina Rajko-Nenow

The primary purpose of the Non-Vesicular Reference Laboratory (NVRL) is to provide both a national and international diagnostic service and to characterise outbreaks of livestock diseases caused by Bluetongue virus (BTV), African horse sickness virus, African swine fever virus, Peste des Petits ruminants virus, and Capripox viruses. The NVRL is a World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Reference Laboratory for the diseases caused by these viruses and therefore provides a critical resource for developing countries to prevent and control exotic diseases of livestock. While the NVRL investigates the molecular epidemiology of exotic viruses, the group is involved in applied research such as the development and validation of new diagnostic assays, and their harmonisation across diagnostic laboratories. Crucial to this, is the provision of standardised reference materials and proficiency testing schemes. The viruses handled in the NVRL cause significant disease in livestock and must only be worked within high-containment laboratory facilities. Thus, these viruses cannot be distributed to laboratories which do not meet the required minimum biosecurity level. The provision of inactivated (biologically inert) reference material to laboratories in developing countries is therefore of great importance. The placement student will be expected to determine the inactivation kinetics for the viruses under the remit of the NVRL for the generation of these reference materials. In addition, the student will support the NVRL in routine duties such as housekeeping, consumable management, sample reception and other duties as required. Full details


Understanding the occurrence of genome exchange between different strains of Bluetongue virus following the infection of the same target cells; Marc Guimera, Dr Karin Darpel

Bluetongue virus (BTV) is transmitted between its ruminant hosts (sheep, cattle, goats, deer) by Culicoides biting midges. In ruminants BTV causes a severe haemorrhagic and economically important disease (called bluetongue). The virus genome is divided into 10 segments of double stranded (ds)RNA. When two strains of BTV are infecting the same cell, genome-segments can be exchanged between both viruses and this process is called reassortment. This can lead to the emergence of new viral strains (reassortant strains), which may have gained new traits (e.g. causing more severe disease or being transmitted more efficiently etc). Interestingly, historic research has suggested that if infections occur not at the same time but one after the other (asynchronously), the initial infection by the first virus might block/exclude the infection by a second BTV strain (superinfection) in a time-dependent manner. Superinfection exclusion during asynchronous infections would thereby restrict genome reassortment of BTV to a precious yet currently undefined time window. This project will mainly investigate superinfection exclusion, and will therefore help to get a better understanding of when and how BTV genome reassortment occurs, an event still poorly understood. Full details

04/MF/AS Rapamycin mediated degradation of chicken IFITM3; Dr Mark Fife, Dr Angela Steyn

Rapamycin is a drug characterised primarily by its ability to suppress the immune system and has been shown to potently inhibit downstream signalling from the target of rapamycin (TOR) proteins. In mammals, rapamycin treatment results in the degradation of the interferon-induced transmembrane protein 3 (IFITM3), a potent antiviral protein which inhibits the entry of a broad range of viruses into cells. The genetics and genomics group focus primarily on the antiviral effect of chicken IFITMs (chIFITMs) in avian cell lines and tissues. There is currently no data that reports an effect on chIFITM3 upon rapamycin treatment, therefore providing an exciting opportunity to produce and report novel data. This research project will be instrumental in enhancing our understanding of the effect that rapamycin treatment has on the degradation of chIFITM3 as well as any other cellular process that may be affected.  Full details


Characterising the extracellular virions of lumpy skin disease virus (LSDV); Dr Petra Fay, Dr Pip Beard

Poxviruses undertake a complicated replication cycle which incorporates the production of four types of virions – intracellular mature virions (IMVs), intracellular enveloped virions (IEVs), cell associated enveloped virions (CEVs) and extracellular enveloped virions (EEVs). EEVs consist of IMVs wrapped in an extra membrane. For the orthopoxvirus genus (OPXV) it has been shown that IMVs are by far the predominant virion type produced with EEVs forming around 1% of the total. However EEVs are crucial to the pathogenesis of OPXVs as they allow the virus to spread to distant sites within the host. Very little is known about EEV production by CPPVs, however recent confocal and electron microscopy studies by the PoxWorld team have uncovered preliminary evidence that the morphogenesis of CPPVs is similar to OPXVs, with IMVs, IEVs, CEVs and EEVs identified in LSDV-infected cells, along with other key features of poxvirus replication (viral factories, wrapping stations and actin tails). Full details

06/RM/SG Evaluation of the immunogenicity of Nipah virus vaccine candidates in pigs; Dr Rebecca McLean, Dr Simon Graham

Nipah virus (NiV) causes a severe and often fatal neurological disease in humans. Whilst fruit bats are considered the natural reservoir, NiV also infects pigs and may cause an unapparent or mild disease. Direct pig-to-human transmission was responsible for the first and still most devastating NiV outbreaks in Malaysia and Singapore in 1998-99, that led to nearly 300 human cases and more than 100 deaths. Despite the importance of NiV as an emerging disease with the potential for pandemic, no vaccines or therapeutics are currently approved for human or livestock use. In collaboration with partners from Australia, Malaysia and India we are developing an inexpensive, safe and efficacious vaccine which could be used to protect pigs against NiV infection and transmission, thereby reducing the risk to public health. We have assembled a panel of recombinant NiV vaccine candidates based on the NiV G or F proteins and delivered either as protein subunits or by viral or mRNA vectors. A series of immunogenicity trials are being conducted in pigs to quantitatively and qualitatively assess immune responses induced by these vaccine candidates. PBMCs and lymphoid tissue samples collected at selected time-points from immunised pigs have been cryopreserved and will be used to study antigen-specific T and B cell responses. Full details

07/SG/JS Isolation and characterisation of virus-neutralising monoclonal antibodies from hyperimmune pigs; Dr Simon Graham, Dr Julian Seago

Broadly neutralising antibodies are the subject of intense recent research in the context of a number of highly variable viruses, such as influenza and HIV. Central to these efforts are methods to generate and analyse the specificity of naturally occurring monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), which may be used as immunotherapeutic agents or as tools to define novel targets for vaccine development. The porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) is responsible for the most important infectious disease affecting the global pig industry. The rapid evolution of PRRSV poses a major challenge to effective disease control since available vaccines show variable efficacy against divergent strains. Knowledge of the antigenic targets of virus-neutralising antibodies that confer protection against heterologous PRRSV strains would be a catalyst for the development of next-generation vaccines. Key to discovering these epitopes is the isolation of mAbs from PRRSV-immune pigs. To address this important unmet need, an innovative approach is being pursued which involves using a retrovirus expressing key gene regulators to genetically programme memory B cells isolated from immune animals. Programmed B cells are converted into proliferating, antibody-secreting cells which retain surface antibody expression; making them amenable to enrichment, cloning and direct analysis of antibodies in cell culture supernatants. Full details

08/LG African swine fever virus genomics as an approach to identify variations in immunogenic proteins and test their role in protection; Lynnette Goatley

African swine fever virus (ASFV) is large DNA virus that encodes for at least 150 different genes and causes a lethal haemorrhagic disease in domestic swine. At present there is no vaccine or treatment for African swine fever and control is dependent on rapid diagnosis, quarantine and slaughter of affected animals. Previous work at Pirbright has included producing live attenuated viruses and viral vectored vaccines with some success. However, one limitation of these experimental vaccines is their ability to protect against genetically distinct strains of ASFV. Predicting such cross-protection is difficult due to the lack of full genome sequences. Therefore, the main objective of this project is to help develop methods to generate DNA libraries for next generation sequencing and to work with the bioinformatics department to analyse any data generated. This information will inform the second aim of the project, which is to identify which of the 150 encoded genes are required for protection and these to develop a subunit vaccine against strains of ASFV circulating in Eastern Europe. Full 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.

UK Masters Loans:

Masters degree loans are now available across the UK.  For full details please visit: 

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

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