Reconstructing ancestral viruses to fight current and future flavivirus outbreaks

Project opportunity

This Earmarked Scholarship project is aligned with a recently awarded Category 1 research grant. It offers you the opportunity to work with leading researchers and contribute to large projects of national significance.

Transmission of dengue (DENV) and zika virus (ZIKV) between humans and mosquitoes is known as urban transmission and usually occurs in densely populated areas causing explosive epidemics or results in endemic establishment. DENV is endemic in over 100 countries worldwide with 40% of the world’s population at risk of infection. Other flavivirus transmission includes the sylvatic transmission cycle which are maintained between viraemic non-human primates and mosquitoes in natural forest habitats. The transition from sylvatic to urban transmission is known as a ‘spillover’ event and occurs when humans become infected in the sylvatic habitats, enter urban environments and are subsequently fed on by highly anthropophilic urban mosquitoes continuing the transmission cycle. The presence of sylvatic cycles virtually eliminates the chance of eradication of sylvatic flaviviruses and poses a threat for potential vaccination as divergent strains may be introduced into naïve populations.

There is currently only one licensed vaccine for DENV but has limited implementation due to safety and efficacy concerns2. One of the major obstacles for DENV vaccine development is the phenomenon of antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE), which occurs when cross-reactive, non- neutralising antibodies facilitate enhanced attachment and entry of the virion into Fc-receptor bearing host cells. To overcome ADE and to produce an effective vaccine, a robust protective-antibody response is needed against all four DENV serotypes. Compounding this issue, is the recent reports of ZIKV infection, which is a close relative of DENV, where an elevated risk of severe dengue disease was observed in individuals with prior ZIKV infection.

This project plans to understand the structure and immune response of ancestral and sylvatic flaviviruses to broaden our understanding of ADE and future vaccine and therapeutic targets. Using recombinant flavivirus technology we hope to better understand the structural basis of flavivirus evolution and emergence and how differences in the virion structure could influence host tropism and disease.

Scholarship value

As a scholarship recipient, you'll receive: 

  • living stipend of $29,863 per annum tax free (2023 rate), indexed annually
  • tuition fees covered
  • single Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC)

Supervisor

Dr Natalee Newton

School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences

Email: natalee.newton@uq.edu.au

Preferred educational background

Your application will be assessed on a competitive basis.

We take into account your

  • previous academic record
  • publication record
  • honours and awards
  • employment history.

A working knowledge of molecular biology would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

The applicant will demonstrate academic achievement in the field(s) of molecular or structural virology and the potential for scholastic success.

A background or knowledge of flaviviruses or arboviruses is highly desirable.

Latest commencement date

If you are the successful candidate, you must commence by Research Quarter 1, 2025. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date.

If you are an international applicant, you may need to apply much earlier for visa requirements.

How to apply

You apply for this project as part of your PhD program application.

View application process