Safeguarding our borders against canine and feline vector-borne disease incursions using novel portable diagnostics

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This joint PhD project will be based at the University of Melbourne, with a 12 month stay at the Hebrew University Jerusalem.

Project description: 

Canine and feline vector-borne diseases (CVBDs) transmitted by ticks, fleas and biting flies, are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in companion animals. Some of these pathogens are also responsible for several well-recognized diseases that are capable of being transmitted to humans (termed ‘zoonoses’), throughout the globe.

CVBDs have emerged at accelerated rates in recent years due to increased movement of pets and working dogs, which have permitted previously exotic vectors and their pathogens to establish in new environments. This has been particularly evident in Israel and Australia.

Although biosecurity pathways may appear rigorous, there are several limitations, including diagnostics, that impact risk-mitigation strategies for exotic CVBDs entering Australia and Israel. Current diagnostic methods only target a limited number of specific pathogens and are unable to detect or identify the many exotic or novel vector-borne pathogens present globally. Early detection and recognition of these pathogens in animals and arthropod vectors at the point of entry or risk is crucial to mitigating incursion and establishment of these VBDs in Australia and Israel.

Project goals

- Design and optimise a novel portable, metabarcoding diagnostic tool based on nanopore sequencing technology, capable of accurate, rapid and cost-effective detection and characterization of canine and feline vector-borne diseases (bacteria, parasites and viruses) in arthropod vectors (ticks, fleas, biting flies).

- Verify and compare the diagnostic test parameters of this novel metabarcoding diagnostic tools to traditional 'reference' diagnostic assays for the detection of CVBD in ectoparasite specimens.

- Apply the novel metabarcoding diagnostic to an epidemiological survey for the detection of known, emerging and novel CVBD in ‘high risk’ Canidae and Felidae in Australia (feral dogs, feral cats, foxes) and Israel (stray dogs, wild foxes, wolves, jackals, and feral cats).

Supervision team

Professor Rebecca Traub and Dr Vito Colella (University of Melbourne)

Professor Gad Baneth (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Skills and requirements:

  • A higher degree in biological, biomedical or veterinary sciences (MSc, MPhil)
  • Demonstrated ability in molecular biology/ diagnostics
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently and as part of the team
  • Demonstrated time and project management skills
  • Demonstrated ability to write research reports or other publications to a publishable standard (even if not published to date)

Further details:

The PhD candidate will benefit from the combined expertise of the project supervisors, and the embedding into two research environments.

Professor Rebecca Traub and Dr Vito Colella at the University of Melbourne will contribute expertise on companion vector-borne disease in Australia and provide support for the development of next-generation sequencing-based diagnostics for pathogen detection and characterisation. Professor Gad Baneth at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will contribute expertise in the epidemiology of companion vector-borne disease in Israel and the Middle East.

The candidate will be enrolled in the PhD program at the Melbourne Veterinary School at the University of Melbourne and in the PhD program at the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

To apply for this joint PhD opportunity, and to view the entry requirements, visit How to apply.

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