“Not all viruses come alone” - the impact of orbivirus co-infections on bluetongue virus reassortment and diversity

The project aims to make fundamental advances in understanding how viruses interact within shared hosts using an important vector-borne pathogen.

Start date

1 October 2021


3.5 years

Application deadline

Funding source

50% The Pirbright Institute, 50% University of Surrey (email confirmation from Emma Reynolds, funding has been approved by the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and has been factored into financial plans).

Funding information

This is a 3.5 year fully funded studentship open to UK nationals. Funding includes a minimum annual stipend of £15,609 plus a cost of living top-up allowance of £2,200 per annum. Home rated university tuition fees will be paid. EU and international applicants are welcome to apply and all students are eligible for the full award (stipend and home rated university tuition fees). From 1st August 2021, EU and International students will be liable for tuition fees at the international rate and must be able to fund the difference between “Home” and “Overseas” tuition fees themselves. For Home student eligibility guidelines, please refer to the UKRI Full Eligibility Criteria (Annex One).


The project aims to make fundamental advances in understanding how viruses interact within shared hosts using an important vector-borne pathogen. Bluetongue virus (BTV) and other species of the genus orbivirus are highly relevant insect-borne viruses of livestock. For segmented viruses such as the orbiviruses (BTV; African horsesickness virus (AHSV)), genome segment exchange (reassortment) between different strains of the same virus species is a major driver of viral diversity. For reassortment to occur two different BTV strains must coinfect the same cell either in the mammalian or insect host. Coinfection of one host by multiple viruses have been shown to either lead to viral interference/exclusion, enhancement or neutral coexistence with direct implications for the likelihood of reassortment, viral diversity and emergence of new strains. We have recently developed new molecular assays to demonstrate that BTV can exclude a second BTV strain from superinfecting natural host cells during asynchronous infections. Superinfection exclusion (SIE) will greatly affect the window of opportunity for reassortment, yet specific mechanisms, and if this is a BTV-wide phenomenon, are unknown.

Within this project the student will further elucidate the interactions between orbiviruses during coinfection of mammalian and insect host cells to critically enhance our understanding of viral reassortment, selection and host restriction. Initially we will investigate the dynamics of coinfection during synchronous and asynchronous infection time-courses across a variety of BTV serotypes and strains and ultimately across heterologous orbiviruses. The project will then investigate the specific mechanisms of virus-virus interactions observed with a focus on the generation of reassortments and viral population diversity. The generated data will then be further utilised to model viral community interactions and viral population adaptation.


The project combines multiple disciplines of molecular virology, next-generation sequencing, cell biology and bioinformatics, allowing the successful candidate ample opportunities to develop specific research directions of interest and scientific independence, while benefitting from unique scientific environments and complementary skills and facilities available at the Pirbright Institute and the University of Surrey.  The successful candidate will be part of highly collaborative and vibrant research environments at both institutions, while investigating an exciting research hypothesis with strong implications for the epidemiology and evolution of orbiviruses, with direct transferability to other segmented viruses.

Related links

The Pirbright Institute

To carry out the laboratory part of the project, the student will initially be based primarily at The Pirbright Institute. For the data analysis and bioinformatics aspect of the project, the student will spend significant time at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Surrey. The two research facilities are only five miles apart, thereby making this truly collaborative project highly feasible. The student will regularly meet with their supervisory team and undertake training as required at both institutions. A full range of research and transferrable skills training will be made available to the student as appropriate.


  • “Widespread Reassortment Shapes the Evolution and Epidemiology of Bluetongue Virus following European Invasion”. Nomikou K, et al. PLoS Pathog. 2015 Aug 7;11(8):e1005056.
  • “Diversity of Transmission Outcomes Following Co-Infection of Sheep with Strains of Bluetongue Virus Serotype 1 and 8”. Veronesi E et.al. Microorganisms 2020 Jun 5;8(6):851.
  • “An Early Block in the Replication of the Atypical Bluetongue Virus Serotype 26 in Culicoides Cells Is Determined by Its Capsid Proteins”. M. Guimerà Busquets et.al.  Viruses 2021, 13(5), 919; https://doi.org/10.3390/v13050919
  • “Genetic analysis of a rabies virus host shift event reveals within-host viral dynamics in a new host”. Marston DA, Horton DL, Nunez J, Ellis RJ, Orton RJ, Johnson N, Banyard AC, McElhinney LM, Freuling CM, Fırat M, Ünal N, Müller T, de Lamballerie X, Fooks AR. Virus Evol. 2017 Dec 13;3(2):vex038.


Eligibility criteria

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, e.g. veterinary science, will be considered. You should be looking for a challenging, interdisciplinary research training environment and have an active interest in the control of infectious diseases.

UK students.  EU and international students are welcome to apply, however from 1st August 2021, EU and International students will be liable for tuition fees at the international rate and must be able to fund the difference between “Home” and “Overseas” tuition fees themselves.

IELTS requirements: Students without English as a first language must provide evidence that they meet the English language requirement, e.g. with an IELTS score of 7.0, with no lower than 7.0 in listening/reading and no lower than 6.5 in speaking/writing.

How to apply

Applications for this studentship must be made to The Pirbright Institute, not to the University of Surrey.

To apply you must submit: 

  • The Pirbright Institute Application Form and a CV
  • Two references must be sent directly by your referees.

The application form and further details can be found on The Pirbright Institute website.

Application deadline

Contact details

Yvonne Walsh

Email: studentship@pirbright.ac.uk

Tel: 01483 868230

Orbivirus Research

The Pirbright Institute is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans. We receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and work to enhance capability to contain, control and eliminate these economically and medically important diseases through highly innovative fundamental and applied bioscience. The Institute employs around 350 staff, research students and visiting scientists, and is based in Pirbright, Surrey, where investment by BBSRC has resulted in a redevelopment of the site and the construction of a high level containment facility – the BBSRC National Virology Centre: The Plowright Building and a SAPO level two facility, The Jenner Building. 


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