BBSRC DTP-funded PhD positions December 12th deadline

I have two BBSRC funded positions in my lab, closing date 12th December. Note that applications MUST be submitted through the DTP by Monday 12th December 2016, but applicants should ideally contact me for more information. Both projects are open to students who qualify for UK Research Council funding. Applicants should have, or expect to get, a First Class or Upper Second degree or equivalent in a relevant subject. Further experience, including a Masters degree, is likely to be advantageous.

The first project, formally titled "The evolution and genetics of being sinister: from chiral shells to chiral cells", but less formally "A chance to study the most famous snail in the world, the shellebrity Jeremy",  is competitively funded through the 'Molecules, Cells and Organisms' stream of the Nottingham BBSRC DTP.

The second project, no less interesting, but without a shellebrity snail is "From pests to paradise: control and conservation of molluscan biodiversity" and is competitively funded through the 'Agriculture and Food Security' stream of the Nottingham BBSRC DTP.

Project 1: The evolution and genetics of being sinister: from chiral shells to chiral cells

While our bodies are bilaterally symmetric on the outside, the internal organs exhibit consistent, directional asymmetries in their position or anatomy, such that left/right positional errors are an important class of human birth defect, and in later life, numerous diseases affect seemingly symmetric organs in a lateralised fashion. However, while invariant left/right asymmetry appears to be the rule in nearly all animals, until recently it has not been clear if the path to asymmetry is conserved, or how/why the left/right axis is consistently set up in the same direction (e.g. heart to the left). In a recent breakthrough published in Current Biology (26: 654-660), the Davison lab and collaborators in Scotland, Germany and the USA identified the one in a billion base pair change that determines mirror image development (“chirality”) in the pond snail, finally identifying the first described locus that reverses the whole body structure of an animal. As we also showed that the same gene is similarly involved in setting up asymmetry in the frog, then our work that began in snails ultimately revealed one of the earliest common symmetry-breaking steps across the whole of the Bilateria. The next stage of the project is to ‘unravel’ symmetry breaking at the molecular and cellular level, in particular to find the set of genes that first establish asymmetry, and ultimately, to define general rules for how this is translated into creating left-right asymmetric snail shells and vertebrate bodies. In this exciting and fast-moving, but quite flexible project, the student will seek to understand why snails routinely vary in their chirality, unlike any other animal group, and how this asymmetry is set up. According to need and specific interests, the student will use the pond snail system, perhaps undertake field work in other countries, and conduct genetic and genomic research, from both developmental and evolutionary perspectives.

Lab rotation: The student will receive training in the basic techniques necessary to the project. In the lab, this is likely to include an introduction to some of the core techniques of molecular biology, including DNA extraction, PCR and DNA sequencing, as well as experiments in manipulating embryos. Subsequently, the student will be introduced to bioinformatic and phylogenetic methods, necessary to understand the relationship between the different populations and species. Depending upon the time of year of the rotation, local field work may also be possible.

Project 2: From pests to paradise: control and conservation of molluscan biodiversity

Snails and slugs are a major crop pest, with a few introduced species causing massive worldwide problems. Yet, they are difficult to identify and we have little idea of how this biodiversity has come about, hindering appropriate control and conservation efforts. This project will use next generation sequencing methods to investigate the evolution, speciation and diversification of snails, especially with respect to characters under natural and artificial selection (e.g. shell colour and banding or molluscide resistance), and including methods that may help identify cryptic species, or species of conservation concern. For example, building upon the work of a recent student who investigated the diversity within colour polymorphic Cepaea, the next step may be to investigate the degree of parallelism and convergence between this and other species. Ultimately, the precise project will be determined by the interests of the student, but the overall aim is that he/she will begin to determine if the same modes of speciation and evolution are involved in widely divergent species, with the project having implications for both control and conservation of molluscan biodiversity. Although much of the work will be lab-based, with a concomitant bioinformatics element, field collection will be a necessary component, including probable foreign field work in East Asia or the Caribbean region.

Lab rotation: During the lab rotation the student will receive training in several of the techniques that are a necessary component of the larger PhD project. Depending upon the existing skills of the student, these are likely to include a range of molecular biology techniques (e.g. DNA extraction, PCR, RNA methods), analysis (e.g. mapping genes to chromosomes), simple (e.g BLAST searching) and more advanced bioinformatics (e.g. phylogenetics, introduction to biolinux).  Depending upon the precise time of year (snails hibernate in winter), it may also be possible to conduct some field work – e.g. identifying possible field sites for later in depth study.