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Variation in ageing rates in the wild

   School of Biological Sciences

  Prof D Nussey, Dr Hannah Froy, Dr T McNeilly  Wednesday, January 19, 2022  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Ageing is one of the most variable and complex of biological processes and understanding the drivers of variation in the onset and rate of ageing among individuals is an urgent research priority. Research on humans and laboratory model systems demonstrates that genes and environmental conditions can influence when and how quickly an individual ages. In addition, evolutionary theory predicts that investment in costly activities such as growth and reproduction in early life will have negative consequences in later life and exacerbate the ageing process. A rapidly growing body of evidence shows that wild animals experience physiological deterioration in later life and can show dramatic variation in when and how these senescent declines manifest. However, we do not yet have a clear picture of the relative importance of genes, environment, and early life-history in generating variation in the rate of ageing across individuals in populations experiencing multiple environmental stressors, such as harsh climatic conditions, food limitation and infestation with parasites and pathogens.

 This project will utilise an exceptional long-term field study of wild Soay sheep on the remote St Kilda archipelago, off the west coast of Scotland. Detailed data are available from across the lifetimes of thousands of sheep, including information on individual fitness components, life-history traits, ranging behaviour, and morphological, physiological, immunological, and parasitological measurements. Individuals in this population have been extensively genotyped, and experience considerable variation in environmental conditions. This represents an excellent opportunity to understand the relative importance of genetic vs environmental effects in determining among-individual variation in senescence in a range of traits. The detailed morphological and life-history data collected on the sheep will also allow early-life investment in growth and reproduction to be related to later ageing rates. This is a primarily analytical project that will involve the manipulation and analysis of large, complex datasets in the R programming environment. The project would suit a student interested in developing skills in statistics, quantitative genetics, and multivariate modelling. There will also be the opportunity to conduct fieldwork and contribute to the long-term data collection.

 This project will be co-supervised by Dr Hannah Froy and Prof Dan Nussey at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, and Dr Tom McNeilly at the Moredun Research Institute. Please get in touch for further details: ; .

The School of Biological Sciences is committed to Equality & Diversity:

Funding Notes

The “Institution Website” button on this page will take you to our Online Application checklist. Please carefully complete each step and download the checklist which will provide a list of funding options and guide you through the application process. From here you can formally apply online. Application for admission to the University of Edinburgh must be submitted by 5th January 2022.
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