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EASTBIO: Dissecting the seasonal transcriptome of Arctic-breeding songbirds

College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

, Wednesday, January 06, 2021 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 information and application procedures:
This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) .

EASTBIO Application and Reference Forms can be downloaded via

Please send your completed EASTBIO Application Form along with a copy of your academic transcripts to

You should also ensure that two references have been send to by the deadline using the EASTBIO Reference Form.

Funding Notes

This opportunity is open to UK and international students and provides funding covering stipend and UK level tuition fees. The University of Edinburgh covers the difference between home and international fees meaning that the EASTBIO DTP offers fully-funded studentships to all appointees. There is a cap on the number of international students the DTP recruits. It is important that we know from the outset which fees status category applicants fall under when applying to our university.

Please refer to UKRI (View Website ing-people-and-skills/find-studentships-and-doctoral-training/get-a-studentship-to-fund-your-doctorate/) and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria (View Website).

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