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Dissecting the seasonal transcriptome of Arctic-breeding songbirds    

College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

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Dr J Smith , Prof S Meddle No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The potentially devastating effects of climate change have recently been officially recognized and a global emergency declared. To understand how environmental change is impacting on biological systems in wild birds, we have a unique opportunity to study the molecular pathways that regulate annual reproductive cycles, behaviour and potential to survive. We have at our disposal, a very unique set of samples collected from a variety of Arctic and North American songbird species, representing different tissues at different stages of the breeding cycle, under exposure to different environmental conditions.

This genomics-based project will use transcriptomic data from the long-distance migrant, the Lapland Longspur (LALO), to explore these questions. A high-quality annotated LALO genome will also be developed in order for accurate analysis of gene expression to be undertaken.We propose to examine which genes show expression changes in a variety of tissues that are known as important regulators and targets of seasonal hormones.

Comparison of gene expression in different LALO tissues from different stages and behaviours during the year will be made (e.g. comparing arrival in the Arctic with incubation period) and also under different environmental conditions (e.g. normal weather v extreme/storm conditions). Tissue localization of selected genes that are identified as critical will be determined via antibody staining for their protein localisation in the hypothalamus and pituitary.

Results generated from this project will also be compared with data derived from a complementary project examining the genomics underlying seasonality and resilience in two closely related subspecies of white-crowned sparrow. This presents an excellent opportunity to study the recent evolution of seasonal behaviour by comparing the LALO birds with other long-distance migrants and non-migratory species.

Understanding the ability of wild birds to adapt the basic biology of species (via changes in gene expression, behaviour, reproductive potential, environmental adaptability etc.) to a changing climate will allow us to better understand the impact of global environmental change and begin to develop strategies to mitigate these potentially devastating effects that will have consequences for all life on earth.

Although this is a primarily data-driven (genome/transcriptomic analysis) project, the student will also develop skills in wet lab techniques (immunohistochemistry and QRT-PCR), as well as gaining experience in presenting work both orally and in written form. The project will also draw on international collaboration with colleagues in the USA. Some basic knowledge of working within the linux environment would be beneficial, but is not essential.

Funding Notes

3.5 year PhD

This opportunity is open to UK and international students and provides funding to cover stipend, tuition fees and consumable/travel costs. Applications including a statement of interest and full CV with names and addresses (including email addresses) of two academic referees, should be emailed to [Email Address Removed].

When applying for the studentship please state clearly the project title/s and the supervisor/s in your covering letter.

Other projects available:
We would encourage applicants to list up to three projects of interest (ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice) from those listed with a closing date of 10th January 2021 at


Franchini et al (2017) Animal tracking meets migration genomics: transcriptomic analysis of a partially migratory bird species. Molecular Ecology 26: 3204-3216.
Boss et al (2016) Gene expression in the brain of a migratory songbird during breeding and migration. 4:4.
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