Parasite environmental DNA as a novel biomarker to improve agriculture
Fasciola hepatica, usually termed "the temperate liver fluke", is found worldwide and causes disease known as fasciolosis. This infection, caused by helminth parasites, primarily impacts on ruminant production, including within the UK and many other countries. All organisms shed DNA into their environment, this material is known as eDNA. The detection of this eDNA allows the classification of species diversity and abundance in an environment. During certain phases of the Fasciola lifecycle, parasites are present in the environment in order to infect either the snail or animal host. It is at these times the parasite also leaves eDNA behind. The improved detection of this eDNA is the central basis of this project. This will include the use of the third generation technology- droplet digital PCR, which greatly increases DNA detection sensitivity and reproducibility.
The student during their PhD project will drive a step-change in the way eDNA analysis is considered for the detection of important helminth parasites of agricultural significance. The student will do this by examining a range of environmental samples, including water, soil and grass for the presence of Fasciola parasite activity represented by their eDNA.
To do this the student will lead field collections, in partnership with long time collaborating sheep farmers of the Belfast region in Northern Ireland. These novel samples will be characterised by the highly sensitive ddPCR technology, in order to provide comprehensive quantitative measurements of parasite/vector (snail) eDNA. eDNA represents a less invasive and less labour-intensive approach to disease monitoring.
Future applications for the approaches the student will develop will allow farmers to make decisions more effectively through accessing improved, more relevant data from their own farms.
Professor Geoff Gobert
Full-time: 3 years