Background and Project Aims
Disease transmission across the wildlife-livestock interface is recognised as a serious issue in livestock health and food security, as well as wildlife conservation management. Traditionally only considered a threat to farming (UK bovine TB transmission via badgers; African FMD transmission through buffalo), the potential for two-way transmission between livestock and wildlife populations also poses risks to highly threatened species. This project will investigate the infection and immunogenetic status of a semi-wild meta-population of scimitar-horned oryx (SHO), a charismatic north-African antelope considered extinct in the wild for nearly forty years. Multiple small SHO populations established in Tunisia over the past twenty years within fenced landscape-scale enclosures are currently being considered for trial release and will come into contact with local livestock. There is the need and opportunity to conduct research into the immunogenetic diversity and disease status of both SHO and livestock populations in Tunisia to inform the risk assessments, and subsequently investigate the outcomes of controlled trial releases.
Programme of research
Current projects by the applicants have yielded comprehensive genomic resources (SHO reference genome and re-sequenced population data), along with feasibility studies of SHO MHC genotyping. Combined with the long-term SHO field programme in Tunisia (Marwell Wildlife), these resources form the basis for conducting a population-wide assessment of SHO genetic diversity (whole genome & variable immune related gene regions). This comparative baseline dataset will be used to investigate disease outcomes with increasing rates of interaction between oryx and livestock. The research programme will include population genomic, immunogenetic and disease surveillance studies of oryx, and disease surveillance in local livestock. Fieldwork will supplement existing sample collections. The following specific questions will be addressed:
• How is genetic variation relevant to disease resistance distributed within and between sub-populations of captive SHO?
• What is the transmissible disease status of SHO and livestock populations in Tunisia?
• How can immunogenetic data be used to monitor and forecast the outcomes of management interventions at the livestock-wildlife interface?
The project offers a wealth of opportunities for the student to gain experience in genome-wide approaches to studies of immunogenetics, population genetics and their transfer to applied wildlife and livestock management. Training will be provided in: Genomics; Bioinformatics; Immunology; Population genetics; Fieldwork; Livestock Health; and science communication. Training across such a comprehensive suite of skills and technologies directly address several identified UK Skill Gaps, including multi-disciplinarity, data management, translating research into practice, fieldwork, and sustainability science and planning. The focus of translating science into application at both the Institutional (Roslin/Pirbright) and popular (Marwell Wildlife) levels will equip the student with experience in science communication across stakeholders and end-users. EASTBIO, the BBSRC Doctoral Training Programme in which the University of Edinburgh is a partner, is committed to a high-quality graduate training programme that ensures the successful candidate has access to career development opportunities and experience. The studentship will be based within the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Roslin Institute, world leading centres in the analysis of molecular data from wildlife and livestock.