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Post Graduate Opportunity - James Cook University, Australia - Amphibian PhD projects

James Cook University, Australia - Amphibian PhD projects

PhD Projects

Project 1. Immunity to Amphibian Chytridiomycosis

Project 2. Mechanisms Of Resistance To Chytridiomycosis In Recovered And Recolonised Populations

Summary / Significance of Research

Chytridiomycosis is an introduced disease, caused by the amphibian chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, that has spread through Australian frog populations causing mass mortality which has resulted in severe declines including extinction of at least four species.

Resistance to chytridiomycosis  appears to be present in some individuals and in some species, which have survived exposure or infection while other individuals have died. However the mechanisms by which they eliminate or tolerate the fungus are still unknown. We have an opportunity for two PhD candidates to study mechanisms of resistance to chytridiomycosis, a topic of global importance to frog conservation.  Both innate and acquired resistance will be investigated. The Amphibian Disease Ecology Group (ADEG) is  a large, enthusiastic group working on the epidemiology and pathogenesis of chytridiomycosis at James Cook University in Townsville.  JCU staff involved in the group span the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine (Prof. Rick Speare and Dr Lee Berger), School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences (Dr Lee Skerratt), and the School of Tropical Biology (Assoc. Prof. Ross A. Alford). The successful candidates will be enrolled through SPHTM and/or the School of Tropical Biology, and will be supervised by ADEG staff.


The projects are funded by the Department of Environment and Heritage to fulfil specific objectives that may lead to improved conservation outcomes for frogs.  Therefore the candidates must be committed to meeting these objectives. However, the objectives are broad and flexible, as there is little knowledge in this area, and will be adapted depending on results obtained.

Project 1.  Immunity to Amphibian Chytridiomycosis

The required work in this project is mainly laboratory based, involving infection experiments with frogs,  immunological assays and possibly genetics. There will also be opportunities to do field work to collect serum samples and to collect experimental animals.  The objectives are to:

1. Determine whether immunity can be acquired by comparing the outcome of disease in experimentally reinfected frogs compared with those infected for the first time.

2. Determine whether antibodies are produced to B. dendrobatidis using Western Blots or other techniques. If they are, to examine any correlation with survival  by testing experimentally infected and free-ranging frogs (this will involve collaboration with other  projects).

3. Determine whether frogs are evolving immunity in the wild, by comparing the experimental susceptibility of frogs from populations under different selection pressures.

4. Investigate mechanisms of innate resistance. This is open at present but could involve antifungal peptides, cytokines, or skin structure.

5.  Characterise genes responsible for conferring immunity and investigate how this can be applied to improving the survival of wild populations

Project 2. Mechanisms Of Resistance To Chytridiomycosis In Recovered And Recolonised Populations

This project involves a combination of field survey work to compare the prevalence and intensity of infection among populations with different histories of exposure and response to chytridiomycosis and laboratory work on the function of frog skin peptides, frog behaviour, and transmission of chytridiomycosis.  Work on the characterisation and function of skin peptides may be done collaboratively with external researchers.  It will address the following general objectives:

1. Build on our understanding of the pathogenesis of chytridiomycosis including the host and environmental factors that determine the ultimate outcome of infection, i.e., death, persistent infection with no obvious effect, and cure.

2. Investigate populations of frog species that have undergone widespread chytrid-associated decline to identify the factors that maintain these populations.

3. Determine whether populations that have recovered after chytrid-associated decline are susceptible to future severe effects from chytridiomycosis.

4. Search for and examine evidence of resistance to chytrid and research techniques to increase resistance in at risk species

Further Information
The annual stipend for these projects is equivalent to the APA rate with the possibility of a top up for well qualified students (tax exempt[RAA1] ) for 3 years. Candidates require a 1st or 2A class Honours degree involving immunology and/or herpetology or a veterinary science degree. The candidates should be independent and flexible, able to develop ideas on immunity and keen to learn new techniques depending on the direction required by the projects.  Please contact the ADEG staff listed below for further information on the projects.  Applications will close on 20th March 2005.[RAA2]

Project 1: Dr. Dr Lee Berger, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, James Cook University, Townsville Qld 4811, e-mail, phone 07 4796 1735

Project 2: Associate Professor Ross A. Alford, School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, e-mail, phone 07 4781 4732


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