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Elucidation of the “anti-ageing” mechanisms evolved in bats, a comparative field based approach.


The Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research

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Dr E Teeling No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Background:
Ageing is the leading risk factor for major life-threatening conditions, such as cancer, neurodegeneration and cardiovascular disorders. Despite centuries of study, the complexity of the ageing process has hampered our understanding of what drives ageing, with multiple theories of how and why we age, but little consensus. To date, most ageing studies have been carried out in laboratory model species, as they are easier to manipulate, house and have shorter lifespan. Although substantial progress has been made in extending lifespan and healthspan in these short-lived model organisms, there is limited evidence that these approaches will be effective in more long-lived species such as humans. An alternative approach is to explore ageing in species that are even more ‘ageing-resistant’ than humans and have naturally evolved longer healthspans. By far the most successful mammals in this regard are bats, living up to 8 times longer than expected and showing little signs of ageing. Logistically it is difficult to study bats in an ageing context, as most are only found in the wild, are protected, are too small for-non lethal sampling and not easily maintained in captivity. However the Teeling team has uniquely overcome these problems, by developing the field, laboratory and state-of-the-art genomic methodologies required to ascertain the molecular age related changes that occur in wild bats, allowing us for the first time, uncover the molecular basis of bats’ extraordinary longevities.

This project is a fully funded four year PhD studentship (fees, expenses for the project, 18,000k per year stipend, funded by Science Foundation Ireland Future Frontiers Award to Prof. Teeling) with preferable start date January 2021.

Project Objective: Ascertain the age-related molecular changes in short- vs long-lived bats

In this four year fully funded PhD the student will study multiple species of bats in an ageing context across the longevity spectrum (e.g. short- vs medium- vs long-lived bats) to reveal both convergent and divergent anti-ageing adaptations in long-lived versus shorter lived bats. These species were chosen based on their differential longevities across the expected ageing spectrum: two long-lived, two short-lived, two average longevities. Each population has been studied extensively with known demography and life histories and is suitable for non-lethal sampling of known aged individuals, across their lifespans. All populations will be sampled at single time-points over 2-4 field seasons with ongoing field experts (locations: France, UK, Panama, Slovenia) and zoo/captive colony collaborators (locations: Denmark, USA). Using the field methods and laboratory protocols established in the Teeling lab (batlab.ucd.ie), the student will sequence the full blood transcriptome and estimate telomere attrition, across each age cohort (young-middle-old age) per species. These data will be used to ascertain if longer-lived bats have evolved the same or divergent longevity mechanisms; if the ageing profile of bats is different to other mammals and to identify the non-coding RNA regulation of these transcriptomic age-related signatures. This integrative research (i.e. bat field biology, comparative transcriptomics, genomics, molecular ageing biology) will uncover the longevity pathways evolved in long- vs shorter-lived bats and predict the non-coding regulatory regions of these transcriptomic signatures, thus narrowing down shared and divergent pathways that may drive longer healthspan in mammals.

Preferred Start: January 2021.


Application Details:

Applicants should submit the following to [Email Address Removed] as a single pdf, using the email subject header- Longhealth Project 1:

1. A cover letter outlining their interest in either project 1 and their relevant experience
2. A detailed CV (including a list of any publications if applicable)
3. The names and contact details of two academic referees

Funding Notes

Candidates:

We are seeking highly motivated students interested in uncovering the genomic basis of the unique traits evolved in mammals, focussing on extended healthspan adaptations in bats. Students with at least a 2:1 honours BSc and/or MSc in Biology (or other relevant disciplines), with relevant research experience (project 1: e.g. small mammal field work, laboratory bench work, comparative genomics) with proven writing and communication skills and who are self-motivated and independent will be the most competitive. Evidence of oral and written competence in the English language is required.

References

Huang, Z., Whelan, C.V., Foley, N.M. et al. Longitudinal comparative transcriptomics reveals unique mechanisms underlying extended healthspan in bats. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1110–1120 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-0913-3

Jebb, D., Huang, Z., Pippel, M. et al. Six reference-quality genomes reveal evolution of bat adaptations. Nature 583, 578–584 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2486-3


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