Antonia Hilbig


Research title: Leveraging pathogen genomics and phylodynamics to control endemic anthrax

Research Summary

My PhD project is centred around the evolution and transmission patterns of pathogens, particularly those that are transmitted indirectly through the environment. I will focus on genomic data from Bacillus anthracis from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) in Tanzania. Spores of B. anthracis can lay dormant in the ground for many years between infections, a phenomenon that greatly impacts the way we detect and model its infection dynamics through time. In a broader sense I am interested in how phylogenetic and phylodynamic approaches can be used to better fit data of microorganisms that lead this environmentally persisting lifestyle.

Within the study area in Tanzania both wildlife and pastoral indigenous tribes live together, with anthrax affecting all inhabitants of the space: wildlife, humans and livestock. The disease has been endemic in the NCA for a very long time and completely avoiding infection risk is impossible. Thus, I am trying to analyse data with techniques that offer greater discriminatory power, such as whole genome sequencing of bacterial genomes, and therefore enhance our ability to elucidate transmission dynamics. Being able to utilize sequence data in novel ways might open up new insights towards disease management and expand our understanding of pathogen-host-environment relationships.


I am funded through a University of Glasgow/University of Edinburgh One Health joint studentship involving the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine (Roman Biek, Taya Forde, Tiziana Lembo) at the University of Glasgow, and the Roslin Institute (Samantha Lycett) at the University of Edinburgh.

Area of interest

Phylodynamic modelling of pathogen populations to investigate epidemiological research questions that require a One Health approach, as they are relevant to a range of populations.

Academic history

2020- present: PhD in Ecosystems Health- Leveraging pathogen genomics and phylodynamics to control endemic anthrax, research group at the Institute for Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine based at the University of Glasgow

2017-2020: MSc in Epidemiology – Adenoviruses in sub-Saharan Africa: Strain diversity and the role of Adenovirus in disease, research group at Robert-Koch-Institute Germany Berlin, based at the Berlin School of Public Health / Charité University Medicine

2008 - 2014: Diploma in Biochemistry– Set-up of a large scale reporter-based enhancer screen using fluorescence activated cell sorting, research group at Max-Planck-Institute for Molecular Genetics, based at Freie University Berlin