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Elucidation of the “anti-ageing” mechanisms evolved in bats, a comparative genomics 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 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 join the Teeling lab, available from January 2021.

Project Objective: Elucidate the genomic basis of longer healthspan in bats using comparative genomics.

Twenty-seven new bat chromosome-level genomes, representing all bat families are being generated using novel sequencing technologies (e.g. Pac-Bio, Hi-Ci-Dovetail, 10X) part of Bat1K (www.bat1k.com). These genomes will be near complete error-free assemblies and will include six-bat species to be studied at the population level in the Teeling lab, and selected pairs of phylogenetically matched short- vs long-lived bat species. The student will use these new genomes to ascertain the evolution of unique longevity pathways in bats compared with other mammals using both a candidate gene/pathway approach and also using a whole genome wide unbiased approach. In particular the student will uncover regions of the genome under convergent/divergent evolution in long- vs short-lived mammals and long- vs short lived bats using state of the art comparative genomics and phylogenomic methods. These data will be used in cross reference with the on-going population analyses, to ascertain if the in silico predicted genomic regions driving longevity adaptations in bats uncovered, correlate with longevity signatures in the population level-ageing transcriptome studies. These analyses will discover the genomic regions under selection in bats, which may underlie bats’ longer healthspan and will be the basis for further validation.

Possible start dates: January 2021; May 2021; September 2021.

Application Details:

Applicants should submit the following to [Email Address Removed] as a single pdf, using the email subject header- Longhealth Project 2:

1. A cover letter outlining their interest in project 2 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; project 2: e.g. programming skills, genomic statistics, bioinformatics, phylogenomics) 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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