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Mechanisms and functions of biological clocks

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Brandstaetter
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

Project Description

Animals restrict their activity phases within a 24-hour day to either day (diurnal activity rhythm) or night (nocturnal), or to one or both of the twilight periods (crepuscular). Day/night rhythms of physiology and behaviour are coupled to a variety of abiotic and biotic environmental factors which cycle with a periodicity of about 24 hours.

These rhythms persist even when organisms are shielded from 24-hour environmental variations. Thus, these rhythms are not only a direct reflection of the rotation of the earth on its axis and the subsequent variations of environmental parameters, such as the daily change of light and dark. Rather, they have an endogenous basis.

At the most basic level, these rhythms are generated within cells which contain a particular molecular clockwork. Such "clock cells" use molecular loops that close within the cell borders and, thus, do not require cell- cell interactions to produce an intracellular circadian rhythm. However, to be effective for the organism these molecular oscillations have to be transduced within the clock cell to change its activity and, in multicellular organisms, outside the cell to induce daily changes in behaviour or general physiology. In multicellular organisms, clock cells form "functional units", so-called circadian oscillators or circadian systems. The best known examples of such circadian systems include the eyes of some marine mollusks, the retina of amphibians, the mammalian suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), and the pineal gland of nonmammalian vertebrates, particularly those of birds.

Our group investigates the mechanisms and functions of circadian oscillators that control physiology and behaviour. The basis of circadian rhythmicity of the animal is a circadian pacemaking system which comprises oscillatory components that interact with each other, including the pineal gland, a hypothalamic circadian oscillator, and the retinae of the eyes. We are interested in a better understanding of how biological clocks work and what role they play as mediators of animal physiology and behaviour.

Our methods include qualitative and quantitative analysis of behaviour, molecular techniques to characterize relevant genes, in vitro culture methods to investigate isolated biological clocks, immunocytochemistry and High-Performance-Liquid-Chromatography for the quantitative analysis of neurotransmitters, neuropeptides and hormones, image analysis, electrophysiology and microphysiometry.

To find out more about studying for a PhD at the University of Birmingham, including full details of the research undertaken in each school, the funding opportunities for each subject, and guidance on making your application, you can now order your copy of the new Doctoral Research Prospectus, at: www.birmingham.ac.uk/students/drp.aspx

Please find additional funding text below. For further funding details, please see the ‘Funding’ section.
The School of Biosciences offers a number of UK Research Council (e.g. BBSRC, NERC) PhD studentships each year. Fully funded research council studentships are normally only available to UK nationals (or EU nationals resident in the UK) but part-funded studentships may be available to EU applicants resident outside of the UK. The deadline for applications for research council studentships is typically at the end of January each year.

Each year we also have a number of fully funded Darwin Trust Scholarships. These are provided by the Darwin Trust of Edinburgh and are for non-UK students wishing to undertake a PhD in the general area of Molecular Microbiology. The deadline for this scheme is also typically at the end of January each year.

Funding Notes

All applicants should indicate in their applications how they intend to fund their studies. We have a thriving community of international PhD students and encourage applications at any time from students able to find their own funding or who wish to apply for their own funding (e.g. Commonwealth Scholarship, Islamic Development Bank).

The postgraduate funding database provides further information on funding opportunities available http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/postgraduate/funding/FundingFilter.aspx and further information is also available on the School of Biosciences website http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/biosciences/courses/postgraduate/phd.aspx


BRANDSTÄTTER R., KUMAR V., ABRAHAM U. & E. GWINNER (2000) Photoperiodic information acquired in vivo is retained in vitro by a circadian oscillator, the avian pineal gland. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 97: 12324-12328.
BRANDSTÄTTER R., KUMAR, V., VAN´T HOF, T. & E. GWINNER (2001) Seasonal variation of in vivo and in vitro melatonin production in a passeriform bird, the house sparrow (Passer domesticus). J. Pineal Res. 31: 120-126.
BRANDSTÄTTER R., ABRAHAM U. & U. ALBRECHT (2001) Initial demonstration of rhythmic Per gene expression in the hypothalamus of a non-mammalian vertebrate, the house sparrow (Passer domesticus). NeuroReport 12: 1167-1170.
GWINNER E. & R. BRANDSTÄTTER (2001) Complex bird clocks. Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. Lond. B 356:1801-1810.
BRANDSTÄTTER R. (2002) The circadian pacemaking system of birds. In KUMAR V. (ed.) Biological Rhythms. Narosa Publishing House, New Delhi, pp. 144-163.
ABRAHAM U., ALBRECHT U., GWINNER E. & R. BRANDSTÄTTER (2002) Spatial and temporal variation of passerPer2 gene expression in two distinct cell groups of the suprachiasmatic hypothalamus in the house sparrow (Passer domesticus). European J. Neurosci. 16: 429-436.
LANG R., HINTNER H., HERMANN A. & R. BRANDSTÄTTER (2003) Photoperiod modulates melanoma growth in C57BL/6 Mice. Exp. Dermatol. 12: 510-513.
BERTOLUCCI C., WAGNER G., FOA A., GWINNER E. & R. BRANDSTÄTTER (2003) Photoperiod modulates amplitude but not duration of in vitro melatonin production in the ruin lizard (Podarcis sicula). J. Biol. Rhythms. 18: 63-70.
BRANDSTÄTTER R. & U. ABRAHAM (2003) Hypothalamic circadian organisation in birds: I. Anatomy, functional morphology and terminology. Chronobiol. Int. 20: 637-655
ABRAHAM, U., ALBRECHT, U. & R. BRANDSTÄTTER (2003) Hypothalamic circadian organisation in birds: II. Clock gene expression. Chronobiol. Int. 20: 657-669.
BRANDSTÄTTER R. (2003) Encoding time of day and time of year by the avian circadian pacemaking system. J. Neuroendocrinol. 15: 398-404.

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.80

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