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Regulation of gene expression by the maternal contribution of modified RNAs during embryonic development (AKAY_U23DTPR)

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr A Akay, Dr W Haerty  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Germline stem cells are essential for the survival of organisms by giving rise to offspring. Gene expression changes within the germ cells can affect embryonic development, and in some organisms, such changes are transgenerationally inherited. RNA is at the centre of many gene regulatory processes. More than 150 diverse chemical modifications are found on RNA, and more proteins are required for their synthesis and recognition. RNA modifications function in RNA stability, translation, splicing and localisation. and they have been implicated in embryonic development, longevity, neurological diseases and cancers in humans and in animal models.

How do RNA modifications regulate gene expression in the germ cells? Our RNA (epi)genetics laboratory addresses this broad question using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as a discovery organism.

This PhD project aims to understand how the maternal germline passes modified RNAs and RNA-modifying enzymes onto the offspring. Maternal deposition of RNA and proteins into oocytes is essential for early embryonic development. The PhD project will investigate how RNA modification machinery and modified RNAs contribute to early embryonic development. The project will combine powerful C. elegans genetics with state-of-the-art Oxford Nanopore Sequencing and high-resolution microscopy techniques to study novel gene regulatory pathways. This project will lead to novel discoveries in a new area of biology that will influence research in multiple areas (germ cell biology, embryonic development and inter/transgenerational phenotypes).

The project is led by Dr Alper Akay, UKRI Future Leaders Fellow at the UEA and Dr Wilfried Haerty, Group Leader at the Earlham Institute. Together, we offer a multidisciplinary and supportive research environment. The successful candidate will have an exceptional opportunity to train in RNA biology, sequencing techniques, data analysis and microscopy.

 Additional information:

For more information on the supervisor for this project, please visit the UEA website 

Start date: October 2023

Entry requirements: Students with, or expecting to attain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the NRPDTP. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed either on 27th July 2023. 

Please note that all international awards have been made for our programme for 2023 so we will not be accepting applications from international candidates, as defined by UKRI’s guidance on International Eligibility criteria for UKRI funded studentships - View website

Visit our website for further information on eligibility and how to apply: Website

Our partners value diverse and inclusive work environments that are positive and supportive. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Funding Notes

The Norwich Research Park (NRP) Biosciences Doctoral Training Programme (DTP) is offering fully-funded studentships for October 2023 entry.
The programme offers postgraduates the opportunity to undertake a 4-year PhD research project whilst enhancing professional development and research skills through a comprehensive training programme.
You will join a vibrant community of world-leading researchers.
All NRPDTP students undertake a three-month professional internship placement (PIPS) during their study. The placement offers exciting and invaluable work experience designed to enhance professional development.


I. A. Roundtree, M. E. Evans, T. Pan, C. He, Dynamic RNA Modifications in Gene Expression Regulation. Cell. 169, 1187–1200 (2017).
A. Akay et al., The Helicase Aquarius/EMB-4 Is Required to Overcome Intronic Barriers to Allow Nuclear RNAi Pathways to Heritably Silence Transcription. Dev. Cell. 42, 241–255.e6 (2017).
P. van Delft et al., The Profile and Dynamics of RNA Modifications in Animals. Chembiochem. 18, 979–984 (2017).
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