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Investigating the developmental genetic mechanisms controlling the timing of body segmentation in insects.

Project Description

The arthropods (flies, beetles, spiders etc.) have obvious externally visible repeating body units, while vertebrates exhibit internal segmentation in the form of vertebrae, ribs and associated muscle. Dr Andrew Peel’s past work has helped show that the genetic networks underpinning segment formation in arthropods and vertebrates share striking mechanistic similarities (Sarrazin, Peel & Averof, 2012. Science). In both groups, repeated structures form under the control of a ‘segmentation clock’. This project will examine whether further mechanistic similarities also exist. Dr Andrew Peel’s recent work in collaboration with Dr Erik Clark has helped identify segmentation ‘timing factors’ that regulate the spatiotemporal progression of segmentation in both a fly (Drosophila) and a beetle (Tribolium) (Clark & Peel, 2018. Development). This project will study the function of these factors in a range of insect species to see if they constitute an ancestral and conserved insect mechanism for controlling the timing of segmentation. Interestingly, these factors might play equivalent roles in vertebrates. Extensive similarity between insects and vertebrates would make the red flour beetle Tribolium castaneum (the focus of work in our lab) a good model for understanding the developmental principles underpinning the human segmentation clock and how our vertebrae form. Given that arthropods and vertebrates diverged very early in animal evolution, extensive similarity might also indicate an ancient origin for segmented body plans, with many animals having lost segments (e.g. molluscs), or reveal striking parallel evolution of segmentation mechanisms across animals. The project therefore might offer insights into the morphological evolution of most animal lineages.

Funding Notes

White Rose BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership in Mechanistic Biology
4 year fully-funded programme of integrated research and skills training, starting Oct 2019:
• Research Council Stipend
• UK/EU Tuition Fees
• Conference allowance
• Research Costs

At least a 2:1 honours degree or equivalent. We welcome students with backgrounds in biological, chemical or physical sciences, or mathematical backgrounds with an interest in biological questions.
EU candidates require 3 years of UK residency in order to receive full studentship

Not all projects advertised will be funded; the DTP will appoint a limited number of candidates via a competitive process.

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Clark & Peel, 2018. Evidence for the temporal regulation of insect segmentation by a conserved sequence of transcription factors. Development. Vol. 145, no. 10, dev155580.

Sarrazin*, Peel* & Averof, 2012. Science. A segmentation clock with two-segment periodicity in insects. Vol. 336, Issue 6079, p338-341.

Peel, 2008. The evolution of developmental gene networks: lessons from comparative studies on holometabolous insects. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. Vol. 363, Issue 1496, 1539-1547.

Peel et al., 2005. Arthropod segmentation: beyond the Drosophila paradigm. Nature Reviews Genetics. Vol. 12, 905-916.

How good is research at University of Leeds in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 60.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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