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The Control of Moulting in Arthropods

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  • Full or part time
    Dr D Wilcockson
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This project is part of a competition funded through the AberDoc scheme ( at Aberystwyth University. The project is in collaboration with Professor Simon Webster at Bangor University.

The project
Arthropods are undoubtedly the most successful multicellular organisms on earth in terms of sheer diversity, species number, and niche utilisation- they are our major competitor for food resources, vectors of disease, yet beneficial as pollinators and food sources. Their success is due to the possession of a chitinous exoskeleton and growth patterns involving metamorphosis and ecdysis. The behavioural and morphological changes associated with these processes have long been the most intensively researched area in invertebrate endocrinology. In particular the hormone signalling sequences that initiate stereotyped innate behaviours culminating in ecdysis in insects has been an extraordinarily fruitful research area. The stepwise execution of these behaviours during the ecdysis sequence, via a temporally exact series of neuropeptide hormone and transmitter release is perhaps the most well understood endocrine “cascade” in the invertebrates [1-4].
Recent advances in our understanding of the hormonal control of insect ecdysis programmes have been made in model, genetically tractable insects [3]. These studies have led us to explore the analogous processes in crustaceans, of which we know relatively little. Both sub-phyla arose from a common, crustacean-like ancestor more than 500 mya ago. Obviously, these early arthropods had the same constraints on their growth patterns relating to shedding their exoskeletons, thus the hormonal systems involved in ecdysis must surely be the most ancient and highly evolved of any organism. This begs the following questions that will be addressed during the studentship:

1) To what extent can we see commonality between signalling molecules involved in ecdysis of insects and crustaceans?
2) What are the differences in control of ecdysis; are there “unique” mechanisms in play in each sub-phylum that relate to their respective life history strategies?
3) Can we observe commonalities in ligand-receptor coevolution?

We have recently made in-roads into some of these questions, such as defining the receptors for key hormones such as Corazonin and red-pigment concentrating hormone our crab model, Carcinus maenas [5]. The successful candidate will develop these findings further and receive training in a variety of technologies- see below.

Approach: We are using contemporary molecular techniques, including RNAseq, RNA interference, in situ hybridization and qPCR together with immunochemical strategies, aequorin reporter cell-based assays [5] and elegant behavioural analysis to define the endocrine cascades (receptors and ligands) controlling ecdysis in the green shore crab, Carcinus maenas. Comparison of the crab ecdysial program with insect molting will address the above questions. The candidate will receive full training in these techniques and in advanced microscopy (confocal and electron microscopy).

The candidate will benefit from the outstanding research environment at IBERS, Aberystwyth, including a BBSRC, European and Welsh Government funded Innovation Campus, Core Genomics Facility and recently installed marine aquarium. The Wilcockson Labs are friendly, collaborative, exceptionally well equipped and have received funding from BBSRC and NERC.

This award is available to high-achieving students. Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a first-class honours degree or a 2.1 and distinction at Masters level in the biological sciences (Biology, Zoology, Marine Biology, Cell or Molecular Biology, Biochemistry etc). A genuine interest arthropod/crustacean biology and physiology is essential.

To apply for this PhD, in the first instance send your c.v., transcripts and a one- page (A4) statement detailing your motivation for applying, outlining your interest in the work conducted in the host laboratory and why you are well suited to the project, to the principle supervisor, Dr David Wilcockson ([Email Address Removed]) by 5pm 16th February 2018. Selected candidates will be invited to submit a full application via the AberDoc Scheme- deadline 1st March 2018. Informal enquiries are welcomed and can made, also by email to Dr Wilcockson.

Funding Notes

This award is available to high-achieving students from the UK/EU and funded through the AberDoc scheme ( at Aberystwyth University.


1. Zitnan D, Adams, ME 2005. Compr Mol Insect Sci 3, 1-60.
2. Kim YJ et al. 2006a. PNAS 103, 14211-14216.
3. Kim YJ et al. 2006b.Curr Biol 16, 1395-1407.
4. Zitnan D et al. 2007. Gen Comp Endocrinol 153, 88-96.
5. Alexander et al. 2018. Frontiers in Neuroscience. Doi 10.3389/fnins 2017.0075222

How good is research at Aberystwyth University in Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science?
(joint submission with Bangor University)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 70.21

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

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