This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme, please see https://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/
Supervisory team -
Main Supervisor: Dr. Araxi Urrutia, Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath
Co-Supervisor: Dr Pablo Orozco-terWengel, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Tamas Szekely, Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath
CASE partner: Species360
By having a close relationship and spending time at Species360, the student will get first-hand experience on the work and activities of non-for profit organisations aiming to support conservation.
Project background -
Though death is certain for all, there are marked differences in patterns of ageing and mortality between animal species. Sex specific mortality patterns have been observed in several species but what explains these differences at the molecular level is unknown.
With endothermy, larger brains and high metabolic rates, compared to other tetrapod groups, birds share many of the challenges mammals face in expanding their life expectancy. Although some aspects of the genomic features associated with increased life expectancy in mammals have been explored, genomic mechanisms of mortality patterns in birds have yet to be explored.
Project aims and methods -
We propose to calculate mortality patterns and estimate of life expectancy and analyse fully sequenced genomes 360 species of birds and transcriptomes of 20 bird species. This data will be used to conduct a comparative analyses of gene family size evolution, sequence evolution, gene expression and co-expression network analyses in the first systematic analyses of the forces and genomic mechanisms driving the evolution of senescence. By performing equivalent analyses in over 50 mammalian species and over 15 reptile and amphibian species, we will be able to establish the differences parallelisms in the molecular pathways recruited in the complex adaptations required for the evolution of increased life expectancy in both mammals and birds.
Our study will constitute the most comprehensive study, first in birds and largest in mammals, of genomic mechanisms underlying mortality in animals. The results obtained will increase our understanding of causes mortality and of gender differences in mortality in animals. Importantly, findings will have implications for conservation efforts for improving the health of captive and free-living animals and for improving human health.
This project brings together four top teams with complementary expertise in functional genomics (Dr Urrutia), evolutionary genomics (Dr Orozco-terWengel), demography (Dr Conde) and life history evolution (Prof. Szekely).
This project is ideal for those interested in evolution, mortality, ageing and senescence, evolutionary genomics, comparative genomics, functional genomics. Experience in, or interest in gaining expertise in bioinformatics, R and python programming and statistics is highly desirable. A first degree in biosciences, computer science or statistics would be ideal for this project.
CASE partner -
Importantly, this project benefits from our CASE partner, Species360, a global dataset that holds 7 million records that include demographic information for over 24,000 species. This massive database is an untapped source for studies on life expectancy senescence. Dr Conde is the Chief Director of Species360.
This project will allow the successful student to gain expertise in evolutionary biology, ageing biology, bioinformatics, R and python programming as well as communication skills, scientific writing. The collaborative nature of this work across institutions and with a non-for-profit organisation will allow the student to build project management and organisational skills.
Anticipated start date: 30 September 2019
Candidates should apply using University of Bath’s online application form selecting PhD programme in Biology https://www.bath.ac.uk/study/pg/applications.pl#bio-sci
You may apply for more than one project if you wish but you should submit a separate personal statement relevant to each one.
Further information on the Department of Biology & Biochemistry may be found here http://www.bath.ac.uk/departments/department-of-biology-biochemistry/