PhD in Stress Resilience of Laying Hens

Supervised by Tom Smulders (Newcastle University), Paul Wigley (University of Liverpool), Sasha Gartside (Newcastle University) and Tim Boswell (Newcastle University), details of the subject are below.

Restaurants and food retailers, alongside animal welfare organizations and legislative bodies, are placing ever-increasing demands on food producers regarding farm animal welfare. This is in response to customer demand for ethically produced food and for improvements in quality of life (i.e. how animals feel).

Such quality of life can be improved not only by changes to housing conditions and husbandry practices, but also by increasing the stress resilience of the animals. In this project, you will investigate the effect of a commercial feed supplement on stress resilience in laying hens. The supplement is a natural product derived from botanical secondary metabolites. To investigate stress resilience in hens, you will measure both acute and chronic stress responses. Outcome measures will be both behavioural and physiological, including molecular, neurochemical, and neuroanatomical indices. You will receive training in minor animal surgery and blood sampling, as well as a variety of laboratory techniques and microscopy. You will also learn how to use DNA sequencing and associated bioinformatics to identify microbiological communities in the guts of the chickens and relate this to their stress resilience.

You will work primarily in a university setting to conduct the experiments on small groups of laying hens. However, as part of your project, you will also spend time at the Lakes Free Range Egg Co, the largest producer of free-range eggs in the UK. There you will be able to conduct field trials of the feed supplement in a realistic commercial setting. The Canadian producer of the feed supplement is also an integral part of this collaboration and has offered to host the student at their facilities in North America for a short period of time. This is an ideal project for a student interested in animal welfare and in comparative physiology and neuroscience.

Salary: Studentships are funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for 4 years. Funding will cover tuition fees at the UK rate only, a Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) and stipend. We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants.

Closing date: 22/01/2020

Further information can be found here.