Control of avian pathogenic Escherichia coli by non-antibiotic compounds

The interaction between Avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC) and innate immune cells can determine the outcome and severity of the disease caused by APEC in poultry. Macrophages can produce antimicrobial agents and induce a potent adaptive immunity against pathogens, and chemical agents are able to improve the antimicrobial function of macrophages in mammals. This project will examine the interaction between APEC and chicken macrophages and identify chemical compounds that can increase the antimicrobial function of chicken macrophages and use these to reduce the use of antibiotics in poultry. 

Start date
1 October 2020
4 years
Application deadline
Funding source
British Egg Marketing Board Research and Education Trust
Funding information

This is a fully funded studentship only open to UK students and eligible EU students who qualify for home-rated fees. The student will receive an annual stipend of £15,009. University registration fees will be paid.


Avian colibacillosis, caused by Avian pathogenic Escherichia coli (APEC), is an economically important infectious disease of domestic poultry. Diseased poultry flocks frequently require treatment with antibiotics, but resistance to first line antibiotics is increasingly common and thus of further concern is the emergence of multi-drug resistant APEC strains in poultry. As an alternative to antibiotics, innate immune mechanisms especially macrophages could be trained to rapidly respond to bacterial infections enabling adaptive immune response to control the disease. In mammals, it has been shown that innate immunity can obtain memory which is termed “trained immunity”, in which the trained innate immune cells such as macrophages can respond to pathogens more rapidly and effectively. However, the role of trained innate immune cells in the control of avian pathogens has not been explored and compounds which could induce the trained immunity in avian cells have not been described. Recent studies in Professor La Ragione’s laboratory have demonstrated that APEC can be classified into number of phylogroups and this may be associated with their virulence potential. Moreover, it is apparent that some serotypes provide excellent cross protection whereas others do not. The proposed studies aim to bring together Professor La Ragione’s bacteriology expertise with Dr Behboudi’s avian immunology to better understand how different APEC strains interact with the chicken immune system.

In this project, the student will examine the differential ability of different phylotypes of APEC to modulate the anti-microbial properties of chicken macrophages, with the aim to establish any possible association between pathogenesis of different strains and their ability to subvert antimicrobial function of macrophage. Moreover, the student will identify non-antibiotic chemical compounds to improve the antimicrobial function of chicken macrophages against highly pathogenic APEC strains.

Related links
Shahriar Behboudi Roberto La Ragione………
  1. Betts J, Nagel C, Schatzschneider U, Poole R, La Ragione RM. 2017. Antimicrobial activity of carbon monoxide-releasing molecule [Mn(CO)3(tpa-κ3N)]Br versus multidrug-resistant isolates of Avian Pathogenic Escherichia coli and its synergy with colistin. PLoS One. 2017 Oct 17;12(10).
  2. Cordoni G, Woodward MJ, Wu H, Alanazi M, Wallis T, La Ragione RM. 2016. Comparative genomics of European avian pathogenic E. coli (APEC). BMC Genomics. 22;17(1):960
  3. Shojadoost B, Behboudi S, Villanueva AI, Brisbin JT, Ashkar AA, Sharif S. Vitamin D modulates the function of chicken macrophages, Res Vet Sci. 2015 Jun;100:45-51.

Eligibility criteria

Only UK/EU students are eligible. This studentship is open to science graduates with, or who anticipate obtaining, at least a 2:1 or equivalent in a relevant biological subject in their undergraduate degree, or a Masters degree - subject to university regulations. Other first degrees, for example, veterinary science, will be considered. Experience in bacteriology and immunology will be an advantage. You should be looking for a challenging, interdisciplinary research training environment and have an active interest in the control of infectious diseases.

Students without English as a first language must provide evidence that they meet the English language requirement, for example, with an IELTS score of 7.0 and no less than 6.5 in any of the subsections.

How to apply

Students should apply through the Veterinary Science PhD programme.

Applicants are required to send a cover letter explaining their interest in the project, a CV with relevant qualifications and prior expertise in areas relevant to the project. Two references should be sent directly by your referees. At least one reference should be from an individual with good knowledge of the applicant’s academic record, especially in projects/dissertations.

Suitable interview dates will be directly arranged with shortlisted applicants.

Veterinary Medicine and Science PhD

Application deadline

Contact details

Shahriar Behboudi
Roberto La Ragione
01 VSM 02
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 689265

The Department of Pathology and Infectious Diseases (Bacteriology and avian immunology)


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