Projects on offer

PhD project opportunity (James Cook University, Australia): 

Developing genetic tools for establishing seafood provenance (Strategic Scholarship)

Establishing seafood provenance is becoming increasingly important for the sustainable development of both fisheries and aquaculture industries.  Visual identification of a product to species level, or even much higher taxonomic levels, is frequently impossible, particularly after processing either at sea or on land.  It is important for the future development of both fisheries and aquaculture industries to establish that product substitution has not occurred and that products do not contain “filler” species (ie contain more than the single named species).  Establishing the geographic or population of origin, and making that information available across the supply chain, is also becoming more important to the consumer and the industry.  The current revolution in molecular laboratory and sequencing techniques means that a range of methods for establishing seafood provenance are emerging and these promise more rapid assessment than has been possible previously. This project will take advantage of the latest genetic techniques to develop methods for establishing the provenance of key Australian seafood species.

Funding: This project will be supported by a scholarship from Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre; a $150M, 10 year, innovation hub supporting digital innovation in Australia’s agri-foods sector. The scholarship includes a stipend of $35,000 p.a. for a maximum of 3 years and the project will be supported by up to $10,000 p.a. operating funds.

For applicants already holding a higher degree by research scholarship from James Cook University, the scholarship may be converted to a top-up of $10,000 p.a. with $5,000 p.a. in additional project operating funds.

The Scholarship is available to both domestic and international applicants wishing to undertake a PhD or Masters by research degree.

Contact: Applicants are encouraged to contact the Principal Supervisor, Associate Professor Jan Strugnell ( to discuss their proposal and will then be required to download an application template from Food Agility CRC via Applicants should submit the completed application form to by no later than Friday 27th September

Scholarships are awarded on the basis of student merit and will be considered on a first-come-first-served basis for applications received up until the closing date. Only one scholarship is on offer.

Combating summer mortality in abalone: can a little bit of stress be beneficial?

Summer mortality is a phenomenon that causes mass dies offs of molluscs during the summer months.  Summer mortality affected molluscs include many economically important animals including; oysters, mussels, clams, scallops and abalone.  The condition occurs in both natural and aquaculture environments and represents a considerable and increasing threat towards aquaculture and fisheries industries world-wide.  Genetic factors play an important role in susceptibility and resilience to summer mortality.  Recent work by our group has detected significantly different gene expression signatures in abalone that were found to be resilient to summer mortality than those that were found to be susceptible (Shiel et al. 2017).  Some of these genes were found to have antioxidant and immune–related functions. 

Research in other marine species shows that inducing a slight stress response ahead of a more significant stressor (e.g. disease or high temperature) can be somewhat protective.  This is yet to be explored in a research setting for abalone, either within or between generations, but could provide a useful tool for combating summer mortality events, thereby providing benefits to the aquaculture industry. 

This PhD project will employ manipulative experiments carried out within the Marine and Aquaculture Research Facilities Unit (MARFU) at JCU and employ the latest genomic and bioinformatics techniques in order to investigate whether slight stressor(s) can provide a protective effect against summer mortality in abalone and if so what molecular mechanism is responsible.

The student will be based in the Department of Marine Biology and Aquaculture at James Cook University, Townsville, Australia (under the supervision of Assoc Prof Jan Strugnell) and will be co-supervised by Dr Ira Cooke.  The student will receive expert training in animal husbandry, laboratory and bioinformatics skills.

Requirements: Domestic applicants should have a First Class Honours in biological science or a related field or equivalent, while international applicants should have a Masters by Research. Preference will be given to those applicants with previous experience in animal husbandry, and/or genetics and/or evidence of strong technical and laboratory skills. Journal publications in these fields are desirable but not essential.  International students must apply by August 15.

Applicants will need to apply for a JCU competitive Research Scholarship and should be familiar with the Higher Degree by Research Requirements.

Funding: $27,592 pa for 3 years (tax exempt), comprising both an APA stipend (2019 rate). Field and laboratory expenses will be supported by the broader project.

Contact: Interested applicants should send their 1) CV, 2) academic transcript and 3) a short (max. 1 page) letter outlining their suitability and interest in the project to Assoc. Prof. Jan Strugnell ( and Dr Ira Cooke (