A molecular characterization of the sensory system in mosquitos

Qualification: PhD

Department: Genetics

Application deadline: 31 May 2021

Start date: 27 September 2021



Dr Roberto Feuda  Dr Ezio Rosato  and Prof Charalambos P Kyriacou

Project description:

Because of mosquitos’ ability to transmit viruses (Zika virus) and other parasites (such as Plasmodium, the agent causing malaria), the World Health Organization considers them to be one of the world’s  deadliest organisms1 and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is making enormous financial contributions to research to counter the mosquito threat. It is estimated that more than half the human population is exposed to mosquito-borne diseases with more than 300 million people per year becoming sick2. Even this enormous figure is likely to increase because of global warming and other human activities that will expand the range of mosquitos into more temperate regions (including the United Kingdom)3,4.

Recently, we have generated some interesting results5 suggesting that the genes encoding light-sensitive opsin pigments underwent substantial molecular divergence in mosquitos suggesting a potential link with prey recognition. Furthermore, recent work from Zhang and collaborators6 showed that mutations in the opsin genes in Aedes aegypti abolish vision-guided target recognition suggesting the possibility for  using a gene-drive approach to target these sequences in order to interfere with the insect’s visual attraction to humans. Opsin genes in mosquitos remain poorly understood7 so the study of their expression in sensory structures that underlie circadian behaviour,  mating and target recognition is fundamental to developing a gene drive approach6.
The aim of this project is to characterize the expression of the opsin genes in the mosquitos’ sensory system. To do this, we shall integrate genomics and molecular approaches in two species that represent an extreme health concern for humans: Aedes albopictus, one of the dengue fever carriers and Anopheles gambiae/stephanesi, the main vector of malaria.

To achieve our aim, we have three objectives which will form three chapters in the PhD thesis:

1. To characterize at the molecular level the sensory neurons in these two species. This will be achieved by sequencing the relevant sensory structure in mosquitos (antenna and head) using RNA-seq methods under different light condition (e.g. dusk and night)

2. These data will be then clarified using single-cell RNA-seq for the whole head using.

3. To characterize the spatial expression of the opsin genes using immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization.

This project is timely because the single-cell RNA-sequencing approach has significantly enhanced the possibility of conducting unbiased classifications of neuronal types and expression patterns8,9. In the short term we can use the results from this project to clarify which sensory stimuli mosquitos use to perceive their environment and how this differs amongst different species. In the long term, having a list of candidate genes with specific functions will allow us to control mosquito populations by knocking down rhodopsin using Crisper/Cas9 techology and evaluated the effect on target recognition6.  

1 WHO Available at: http://www.who.int/vector-control/publications/global-control-response/en/. (Accessed: 13th April 2020) 
2 Franklinos, LHV et al. (2019). The Lancet Infectious Diseases 19, e302–e312 
3 Medlock, JM & Leach, SA. (2015). The Lancet Infectious Diseases 15, 721–730 
4 Simons, RRL et al. (2019). PLOS ONE 14, e0225250 
5 Feuda, R et al. (2020). bioRxiv 2020.06.29.177931 doi:10.1101/2020.06.29.177931 
6 Zhan, Y et al. (2020). bioRxiv 2020.07.01.182899 doi:10.1101/2020.07.01.182899  
7 Montell, C & Zwiebel, LJ. (2016) Chapter Ten - Mosquito Sensory Systems. Academic Press in Advances in Insect Physiology (ed. Raikhel, A. S.) 51, 293–328 
8 Davis, FP et al. (2020). eLife 9, e50901 
9 Konstantinides, N et al. (2018). Cell 174, 622-635.e13 





The Studentship provides:

  • 3 Years of stipend at UKRI rates
  • 3 Years tuition fees at UK rates

Entry requirements

Entry requirements

UK Bachelor Degree with at least 2:1 in a relevant subject or overseas equivalent.

The University of Leicester English language requirements apply where applicable.

Informal enquiries

Informal enquiries

Project enquiries to Dr Roberto Feuda rf190@le.ac.uk

Application enquiries to pgradmissions@le.ac.uk

How to apply

How to apply

To submit your application, please use the Apply button at the bottom of the page and select September 2021 from the dropdown menu.

With your application, please include:

  • CV
  • Personal statement explaining your interest in the project, your experience and why we should consider you
  • Degree Certificates and Transcripts of study already completed and if possible transcript to date of study currently being undertaken
  • Evidence of English language proficiency if applicable
  • In the reference section please enter the contact details of your two academic referees in the boxes provided or upload letters of reference if already available
  • In the funding section please specify that you wish to be considered for the GGB Feuda 2021 studentship
  •  In the research proposal section please provide the names of the project supervisors and project title (a research proposal is not required)



This PhD studentship is available to UK/EU applicants only.