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BSc and MSc projects

BSc and MSc projects

The Institute runs a Year-in-Industry scheme for BSc students undertaking relevant science degrees.  Students who are currently in their 2nd year of a relevant undergraduate science degree may apply for up to two of these 12 month placements.  Placements will commence August 2017 and are unfunded but successful applicants will be offered free, self-catered housing on-site which includes all utility bills (apart from telephone/WiFi). 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.

To apply:   Applications should be in the form of a CV (no more than two sides of A4) and a covering letter detailing why you would like to undertake the placement and the knowledge and skills that you can bring to the Institute. Please email your application to date: 15 December 2016Interviews: January/February 2017. 

Ref Number Project Title Supervisors Details

Mapping cross-reactive neutralising epitopes in the conserved N-terminus of foot-and-mouth disease virus capsid protein VP2

Amin Asfor, Toby Tuthill

Foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) causes an economically devastating disease of livestock. The virus evolves rapidly resulting in high levels of variability between virus strains. Current vaccines are often not able to provide protection against these multiple different strains of FMDV and this is a major problem hindering control of the disease. However, not all parts of the virus are variable. Several broadly cross-reactive monoclonal antibodies against the highly conserved N-terminus of capsid protein VP2 (VP2N) have been previously identified; some are neutralising but most are non-neutralising, suggesting that neutralising epitope(s) in VP2N are masked by immunodominant non-neutralising epitopes. This project aims to map the location of epitopes in VP2N that will induce neutralising antibodies against all strains of the virus and explore recombinant approaches for efficiently presenting such epitopes to the immune system. Full details

PIR2 Large scale identification of MHC haplotypes in diverse cattle breeds

Dorothea HarrisonJohn Hammond, Graham Freimanis

The Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) is one of the most variable genomic regions within and between mammals (Kelley, Walter, and Trowsdale 2005). It contains many polymorphic genes that are responsible for initiating an immune response once an organism has been invaded by a pathogen. This is a fundamental immune recognition pathway in all vertebrates and as a consequence has been under intense diversifying selection pressure, which has at least in part been driven by rapid pathogen evolution and emergence. The cattle MHC is highly diverse, including large copy number variations of polymorphic MHC class I genes, but our knowledge of this diversity is mostly limited to the Holstein breed (Ellis and Hammond 2014). Characterising this immune variation and function in more breeds, including indigenous cattle to Africa, is key to understanding the genetic basis of differential disease resistance between individuals. This data will inform selective breeding programmes that could improve the health and well-being of livestock. Full details


Rapid mammalian adaptation of H9N2 viruses

Holly SheltonMunir Iqbal


Globally H9N2 avian influenza viruses are cause widespread infections of poultry, causing economic, food security and animal welfare issues. Close human contact with poultry has also resulted in human H9N2 infections. We have shown, using circulating H9N2 virus and a mouse model of infection, the rapid emergence of mutations in critical viral proteins that alter characteristics of the virus to been more akin to strains capable of infecting and transmitting in humans.  In this project we hope to demonstrate that the rapid emergence of mammalian adaptation signatures can be repeated and understand if this holds true for H9N2 viruses of a different lineages.  We are interested if there are predisposing viral signatures that enable this rapid adaptation. Full details

PIR4 The efficacy of hydrogen peroxide as a fumigant on pathogens and vectors handled at The Pirbright Institute Jason Tearle, Sharon Webster The Pirbright Institute (TPI) currently utilises formaldehyde as a fumigant in many applications but fundamentally it is used as the final stage of a thorough decontamination process, usually following cleaning and surface disinfection as a mitigation measure against the release of infectious material as fomites that may pose a threat to human or animal health. Examples include fumigating MBSCs prior to servicing, animal units between studies and fumigation lobbies used to transfer material out of high containment. However, the classification of formaldehyde as a Class 1B carcinogen (presumed carcinogen) and guidance from the HSE in July 2015 recommending “that users [of formaldehyde] start to look into the development of alternative gaseous disinfectants for rooms and equipment, whilst there is time to do so” it would be prudent for TPI to do so. Should formaldehyde be banned as a fumigant in laboratory applications, the Institute will have to utilise alternative methods.Full details
PIR5 Using advanced microscopy techniques to image virus infection in cells Pippa Hawes, Jennifer Simpson

Bioimaging is a well-established tool used across the life sciences to address fundamental research questions.  Within the field of virology, microscopy is used extensively to investigate basic questions of virus and host biology.  Microscopy is recognised by Universities, Institutions and funding bodies as an underpinning technique so core Bioimaging facilities are now common-place. At The Pirbright Institute we have a Bioimaging core facility which houses state-of-the-art advanced light and electron microscopes.  These microscopes are located within a high containment environment and are run by experts in the field of imaging pathogens. We are looking for a highly motivated individual to join our team to create a database of images of virally infected cells for use within the Institute, on our website and externally.  You will learn how to prepare and image samples for confocal microscopy, live cell microscopy, superresolution (STED) microscopy and possibly electron microscopy.  These are readily transferable skills which can be applied, in one form or another, to all areas of life science research today. Full details

PIR6 Investigating the role of lipids in infectious bronchitis virus replication Nicole Doyle, Helena Maier

Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV) is an avian coronavirus which causes substantial economic losses to the poultry industry as well as being significantly detrimental to poultry welfare. It has a positive-sense RNA (+RNA) genome, and upon infection, it causes cell membrane rearrangement, a trait common to all +RNA viruses (Paul & Bartenschlager 2013). The complicated membrane structures which can be formed have been studied in this lab (Maier et al 2013) and are thought to provide a site for viral RNA synthesis within the cell. Although these membrane rearrangements have been studied, the lipid composition of these structures is also thought to be important. Several viruses have been shown to modify the lipid metabolism of their host cell, which can affect the membrane fluidity and subsequently membrane curvature to form a site for virus replication (Heaton & Randall 2011). The aim of this project will be to identify the effect of IBV replication on the levels of lipids in infected cells, as well as any changes in metabolism or localisation of the lipids within the cell. Full details

PIR7 Segment-2 sequencing and analysis of Bluetongue virus isolates Paulina Rajko-Nenow, John Flannery The primary purpose of the Non-Vesicular Reference Laboratory (NVRL) is to provide a diagnostic service and characterise outbreaks of livestock diseases caused by Bluetongue virus (BTV), African horse sickness virus, African swine fever virus, Peste des Petits Ruminants Virus, Rinderpest virus and Capripox viruses. As European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL) for BTV, the group maintains a unique collection of virus isolates. The NVRL also performs applied research such as the development and validation of new diagnostic assays and vaccines, as well as investigating the molecular epidemiology of arboviruses. The placement student will be expected to perform partial sequencing of the BTV genome under the supervision of a senior staff member. The student will be trained on selected molecular methods, including nucleic acid extraction, conventional and real-time PCR and he/she will be expected to work independently in the molecular suite after obtaining the relevant training. In addition, the student will support the NVRL in routine duties such as housekeeping, consumable management, sample reception and other duties as required. This placement will provide the successful student with a unique opportunity to work in an ISO/IEC 17025-accredited Reference Laboratory and to gain practical knowledge of sequencing techniques. 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.

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

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