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Novel detection systems for bovine tuberculosis

Principal Supervisor: Dr Elizabeth Fullam, School of Life Sciences

Co-supervisor: Professor Matthew Gibson, Department of Chemistry

PhD project title: Novel detection systems for bovine tuberculosis

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

This project aims to use an interdisciplinary approach to develop a new diagnostic assay for bovine tuberculosis.

The project will involve:

  1. The design and synthesis of new chemical probes/nanoparticles
  2. Testing and optimization of the probe with isolated mycobacterial extracts
  3. Development of new in vitroassays
  4. Microbiology, including growth and cultivation of mycobacteria

Bovine tuberculosis is a disease of global importance. It is estimated that the worldwide losses to agriculture from this disease amount to $3 billion per annum (1). Bovine TB is one of the biggest challenges currently facing cattle farmers in the UK (2). The major causative agent of bovine tuberculosis (TB) is Mycobacterium bovis, a member of the Mycobacterium tuberculosiscomplex. Bovine TB is a disease of high economic relevance within livestock farming since it directly affects animal productivity and influences the export of meat and dairy products. Although a vaccine strain exists: M. bovis BCG - its use is currently prohibited under EU law since it interferes with the current method of detection of bovine tuberculosis: the ‘test and slaughter’ strategy. This test identifies animals that give a positive skin reaction to mycobacterial antigens and those that test positive are slaughtered. It is not possible to distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals.

Therefore there is an urgent need for alternative novel diagnostic tests which are able to detect bovine TB in cattle, with the potential to distinguish between vaccinated animals and infected cattle. This PhD project aims to address this highly topical issue and will provide training across disciplines (chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology).


  1. T. Garnieret al., The complete genome sequence of Mycobacterium bovis. PNAS 100, 7877 (Jun 24, 2003).
  3. P. D. Davies, Tuberculosis in humans and animals: are we a threat to each other? J. R. Soc. Med. 99, 539 (Oct, 2006).

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Food Security

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • Nanoparticle synthesis
  • Chemical analytical techniques
  • Basic microbiology techniques
  • Molecular biology

Contact: Dr Elizabeth Fullam, University of Warwick