About the Project
Dr Pierre Bize (University of Aberdeen)
Dr Fabio Manfredini (University of Aberdeen)
Professor Karen Spence (University of St. Andrews)
Ageing, defined as an age-related loss of physiological integrity that results in impaired organismal function and increased vulnerability to death, imposes one of the greatest social and economic challenges of the 21st century for modern societies. However, ageing is not limited to humans, and the use of laboratory "model" organisms (yeast, nematodes, fruit flies and mice) has led to major advances in indicating that the ageing process is not only controlled by evolutionary conserved genetic pathways and biochemical processes, but also that the early environment plays a key role in fine-tuning these mechanistic processes of ageing. Remarkably, wild animals also experience ageing and, just as humans, but in strong contrast with model organisms, wild animals exhibit important inter-individual genetic variation, live in fluctuating environments and are exposed to a variety of stressors early in life. Hence, research on wild ‘non-model’ organisms may prove essential to gain ecologically and evolutionary relevant insights on the mechanisms of the ageing process.
This PhD project will make the most of a natural bird population (the Alpine swift; median lifespan: 6 years, range: 1 to 22 years) that has been monitored for more than two decades and provides outstanding individual information on early growth environment, reproductive ageing and longevity. This system also offers excellent opportunities to collect blood and feather samples from young (1-4 years) and old (12-20 years) individuals under standardised conditions. Using state-of-the-art genomic, physiological and molecular approaches, this project will therefore allow you to shed a new and integrative light on the key genes expressed differentially between age categories, as well as to test for differences between age categories on processes as diverse as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and stress response, oxidative balance and telomere dynamics, or mitochondrial function. By analysing samples taken from individuals of similar age but with contrasting early growth conditions, you will then be able to reveal the role of early life in fine-tuning the processes mentioned above. Thus, by the end of this project, you will have generated new fundamental knowledge on the mechanisms of ageing and their modulation by early growth conditions.
This inter-disciplinary PhD project will offer the student a unique opportunity to learn a variety of important methods in genomics, molecular biology, animal physiology and advanced statistics, and to participate in the field work in Switzerland. The student will be based primarily at the University of Aberdeen, under the lead supervision of Dr Pierre Bize, who is an evolutionary ecologist interested in the mechanisms of ageing. The student will be co-supervised by Dr Fabio Manfredini at the University of Aberdeen who is an expert in ecological genomics and by Prof Karen Spencer at the University of St-Andrews who is an expert in stress and neurobiology.
Please send your completed EASTBIO application form, along with academic transcripts to Alison McLeod at firstname.lastname@example.org. Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form. Please advise your referees to return the reference form to email@example.com.
Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2:1 UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in a relevant subject.
Spencer KA. 2017. Developmental stress and social phenotypes: integrating neuroendocrine, behavioural and evolutionary perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 372:20160242
Manfredini F. et al. 2017. Neurogenomic signatures of successes and failures in life-history transitions in a key insect pollinator. Genome Biology and Evolution 9: 3059-3072
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