Rift Valley fever virus genome variability and evolution as a means of predicting outbreaks and emergence

A PhD studentship co-funded by the Pirbright Institute and the University of Surrey is available to highly motivated students with a keen interest in emerging vector-borne diseases and molecular virology. This exciting project will investigate the spatial-temporal evolution of Rift Valley fever virus in its mosquito vector and the effect of such evolution on viral fitness and pathogenicity.  

Start date
1 October 2019
3.5 years
Application deadline
Funding source
Approximately 70 per cent by the Pirbright Institute and approximately 30 per cent from the University of Surrey
Funding information

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


Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) is a mosquito-transmitted pathogen endemic in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It predominantly infects livestock, where it causes abortions, fevers and deaths. Human infections also frequently occur which are sometimes fatal. Gaining a detailed understanding of how RVFV genomes evolve in the field will allow us to better predict outbreaks and their severity. In this project we will investigate the ability of RVFV to evolve in mosquito hosts and identify immunological drivers of this evolution in different mosquito tissues over the course of an infection. We will further assess the fitness and pathogenicity of viral genomes arising in mosquitoes and mammalian cells. We will use the obtained experimental data to model the potential emergence and spread of RVFV viral variants.

You will be trained in molecular virology techniques under Biosafety Level 2 and 3 conditions, mosquito rearing, infections and manipulations as well as bioinformatics and mathematical modelling approaches. You will have the opportunity to develop aspects of the project further, depending on interests. You will be encouraged to give seminars, draft research papers for peer review and publication and to participate in other activities at the Pirbright Institute and the University of Surrey.



Related links
The Pirbright Institute
Additional notes

You will be mainly based at The Pirbright Institute and will be registered with the University of Surrey, with regular visits to the university to undertake research and training as required, and to meet with their supervisor. A full range of research and transferable skills training will be made available to the student as appropriate.

References for background reading:

  • Ikegami, T. (2012) Molecular biology and genetic diversity of Rift Valley fever virus. Antiviral Res. 95(3): 293-310.
  • Grubaugh, N.D. et al. (2016) Genetic drift during systemic arbovirus infection of mosquito vectors leads to decreased relative fitness during host switching. Cell Host & Microbe 19: 481-492.

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 your 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.

This is a fully-funded studentship open to UK students and eligible EU students who qualify for home-rated fees, in line with RCUK Residential Guidelines for Research Council Studentships.

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 and no less than 6.5 in any of the subsections.

How to apply

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

Contact details

If you have any enquiries, please email Yvonne Walsh or call +44 (0)1252 868230

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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