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Genotype and epigenetic effects on development and behaviour using animal models of human social disorders and systems-genetics approaches.

Project Description

A fundamental question in the study of human social behaviour is the degree to which specific genes predispose individuals to develop a certain (disease) phenotype and how genetic predisposition interacts with environmental factors to cause disease traits. Moreover, it remains often unclear how, at the molecular level, environmental factors effect changes in complex phenotypes such as behaviour. To understand the role of genes and the environment in social behaviour, this project will utilise mouse models of the human disorder Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS), which is characterized by a set of behavioural, social and anatomical phenotypes.

This project combines empirical work on knock-out mice recording social and developmental phenotypes with a systems-analysis of known WBS genes and QTL loci associated with social behaviours to establish the genetic and phenotypic networks these genes are involved in. Further, we seek to identify potential regulatory genes and the pathways through which these genes have their effect on the disease phenotype. Further, we plan to explore what the changes are at the epigenotype level induced by differences in social environment using methylation analysis. To draw the link back to more complex behavioural phenotypes this project will investigate how ultrasound communication is affected and whether this is reflected in social and behavioural disease phenotypes. Overall, this project will link gene effects through intermediate phenotypes (methylation, gene expression) to complex phenotypes (behaviour) and thus promises to yield a comprehensive understanding of how disease phenotypes arise as a consequence of gene – environment interaction.

The project requires an enthusiastic candidate able to work across disciplines with an interest in empirical, statistical and genetics work.

Funding Notes

This project has a Band 2 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website. For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website. Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.

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