Assessing the function of a secreted/excreted small RNA in African trypanosomes

Supervisors: Liam Morrison, Finn Grey

Project description:

African trypanosomes cause significant animal and human disease in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. African trypanosomes are single-celled extracellular protozoa, transmitted between mammals by the tsetse fly vector. We have identified a small RNA that is secreted/excreted in large quantities by all three of the trypanosome species that cause animal disease (Trypanosoma congolense, T. vivax and T. brucei), both in vitro and in vivo – we can detect the RNA species at similar levels in infected animals to highly expressed mammalian microRNAs; this is currently being pursued as a potential diagnostic tool.

This project will be aimed at deciphering the biological function of this small RNA. From other pathogens it is well established that small RNA species can play a role in cell-cell communication, particularly in terms of altering gene expression and phenotype of host cells.

This project aims to test (i) if and how this small RNA is transferred between parasite and host, (ii) if and how this small RNA is transferred between parasite cells, and (iii) what effect the transfer of this small RNA has on the recipient cell and during infections.

The project will involve cell culture and molecular biology, genetic modification approaches, bioinformatics (transcriptomics & genomics) and in vivo infection work in cattle.