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EASTBIO: Single Cells Make Seashells on the Seashore: using scRNAseq to uncover the role of haemocytes in molluscan biomineralization

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr V Sleight, Prof S Martin, Dr T Bean, Dr Tim Regan, Dr I Cano, Dr Frederico Batista  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This fully funded, 4-year PhD project is part of a competition funded by the BBSRC EASTBIO Doctoral Training Partnership.


How do molluscs build their shells? Shellfish farmers want to grow disease-resistant animals with strong shells, climate change scientists are concerned about the fate of calcifiers in warmer more acidic oceans, and biotechnology industries mine shells for bioactive compounds and material properties. Despite hundreds of years of scientific curiosity, our understanding on the cellular basis of seashell production is incomplete.

In 2004, it was hypothesised that immune cells, called haemocytes, make intracellular calcium crystals and deposit them onto the shell [1]. More recently, methods such as transcriptomics and proteomics revealed haemocytes have a molecular signature that could indicate biomineralisation [2]. But a complete molluscan immune cell development (haematopoiesis) description and functional tests to confirm roles in biomineralisation are still lacking [3].


The broad question you will address in this PhD position is: Do immune cells, called haemocytes, participate in mollusc shell secretion? To disentangle the potential role of haemocytes in biomineralization, from their known functions in immunity, you will use a range of cutting-edge techniques, such as single-cell RNA-sequencing, in two mollusc model systems: Crepidula fornicata and Crassostrea gigas. You will interrogate scRNA-seq datasets to uncover the cell lineage and developmental events that give rise to haemocytes before conducting experiments to empirically test their function.


You will be a motivated and genuinely curious student seeking to explore fundamental questions in invertebrate biology with application in avenues as broad as biotechnology and aquaculture.

 Essential skills: a strong degree in a relevant field; experience conducting independent research; evidence of advanced skills in data analysis.

 Desirable skills: experience with bioinformatic analyses and working in the statistical software environment R; marine invertebrate immunology; molecular biology; immunohistochemistry.


You will join the Sleight Lab (http://sleightlab.com/) at the University of Aberdeen, a supportive environment where curiosity is encouraged and nurtured. You will have access to University of Aberdeen benefits like our free counselling service and generous annual leave allowance. You will receive rigorous training in bioinformatics (including cutting-edge scRNA-seq technology), molecular biology and live imaging. In addition, you will be supported to apply for international summer schools and attend international conferences to present your research. You will publish your findings in leading research journals and graduate with a track-record apt for a career in academia, industry or wider fields.



  • Applicants should hold a minimum of a 2:1 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject. Those with a 2:2 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) may be considered, provided they have (or are expected to achieve) a Distinction or Commendation at master’s level.
  • All students must meet the eligibility criteria as outlined in the UKRI guidance on UK, EU and international candidates. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions, esp. TGC 5.2 & Annex B.



  • Please visit this page for full application information: How to apply | eastbio (eastscotbiodtp.ac.uk)
  • Please send your completed EASTBIO application form, along with academic transcripts to Alison Innes at: [Email Address Removed]
  • Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form. References should be sent to [Email Address Removed]
  • Unfortunately, due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications.
  • CV's submitted directly through a FindAPhD enquiry WILL NOT be considered.

Funding Notes

This fully funded, 4-year PhD project is part of a competition funded by the EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership.
This opportunity is open to UK and International students (The proportion of international students appointed through the EASTBIO DTP is capped at 30% by UKRI BBSRC).
EASTBIO studentships includes a UKRI doctoral stipend (estimated at £17,668 for the 2023/2024 academic year), plus a training grant of £5,000 per annum (year 1-3; £1,500 year 4) and a travel/conference grant of £230 per annum.
EASTBIO does not provide funding to cover visa and associated healthcare surcharges for international students.


[1] Mount et al., (2004). Science.
[2] Schwaner et al., (2022). Front. Immunol.
[3] Pila et al., (2016). Dev. Comp. Immunol.
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