PhD scholarship available: Epidemiology and evolution of pathogens in livestock networks

  • Posted on: 8 May 2016
  • By: MMA Web Admin
Job Posted: 
Sunday, 8 May 2016
Job Expiry: 
Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Infectious Disease Research Centre, Massey University is offering a fully funded PhD scholarship through the New Zealand Biological Heritage National Science Challenge project Biosecurity Network Interventions. This is an excellent opportunity for a student wanting to learn cutting-edge network and evolutionary modelling techniques, with real world applications. The student will become an integral member of a national research team undertaking high profile projects of importance to biosecurity in New Zealand.

This is one of a number of PhD projects that aim to develop network models for a pests and pathogens, and then use these models to evaluate strategies for reducing transmission.  The focus of this project is the protection human and animal health through the development of novel biosecurity interventions in farmed livestock systems.  The candidate will join the Infectious Disease Research Centre at Massey University, Palmerston North and be supervised by Professor Nigel French FRSNZ (mEpiLab) and Dr Carolyn Gates (EpiCentre).


The economy of New Zealand is highly dependent on the health of its livestock populations. Further, the transmission of zoonotic pathogens from farmed animals to humans, through food, water and environmental contact, continues to be a major public health concern. In order to maintain global trade markets, and protect public health, we must develop new approaches to prevent the incursion of exotic diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), minimise the impact of endemic diseases, such as bovine tuberculosis (BTB) and bovine viral diarrhoea virus (BVD) and reduce the transmission of zoonotic pathogens.  Farming practices have created many opportunities for disease to spread between herds through the movements of animals, vectors, personnel, and equipment.  With a better understanding of how these contacts and behaviours shape pathogen evolution and transmission dynamics, it will be possible to design more cost-effective strategies for allocating limited control resources.

The project represents a timely opportunity to explore the relationship between networks and pathogen population structure, using whole genome sequencing, to better understand the epidemiology of important livestock diseases.   Models will be extended to consider the importance of the national and local structure of livestock networks in New Zealand on the predicted distribution and genetic relatedness of fully characterised pathogens. Using existing data, the project will start by examining the network of contacts in the poultry industry and its impact on the transmission and evolution of Campylobacter jejuni. Further work will depend on these initial studies and the development of modelling methods, with the potential to consider other pathogens in other livestock systems (e.g. BVD in cattle). Improved models will provide better decision support for managing incursions, outbreaks, and endemic diseases in livestock and human populations.

We offer

This 3-year scholarship provide an annual stipend of NZD$28,000 a year tax-free, covers full university fees and includes additional support towards operating expenses. The successful candidate will be based at Massey University Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Qualifications and relevant experience

Applicants for this project should hold a Masters degree in a relevant area, preferably with interest in epidemiology, modelling and microbial genetics. The position is open to applicants of any nationality, provided they have strong spoken and written English skills, can obtain a student visa, and are eligible for admission to the PhD program.

To apply

Applications should include:

•         evidence of qualifications and research experience

•         a curriculum vitae and contact details of two academic referees.

•         a cover letter that states why the candidate is interested in the post and how their qualifications would map onto the proposed research.

Please email applications to Professor Nigel French or Dr Carolyn Gates (  Closing date for applications is 15 June 2016 with the expectation of commencement October 2016.