Fully Funded Studentship: Telomeres as Biomarkers of Costs and Quality in a Wild Population of Seychelles Warblers

Research Keywords: Ecology and Conservation, Evolution, Genetics, Zoology/Animal Science

Deadline: 28 February 2013. Applications are processed as soon as they are received, so early application is encouraged.

Supervisory Team: Dr David S Richardson

The Project:

Telomeres are long, specialized regions of DNA which protect the ends of chromosomes and prevent the genes from getting damaged or mixed up when the cell replicates. However, a section of telomere is lost with each replication and when telomeres reach a critical short length the cell stops functioning. Accumulation of these dysfunctional cells in the bodies’ tissues contributes to organismal senescence and mortality. Importantly the rate at which telomeres shorten is also greatly affected by oxidative stress – the organisms’ inability to cope with the damaging waste particles of metabolism. Furthermore, oxidative stress/telomere shortening is influenced by life history and environmental stresses (e.g. accelerated growth or infection). Telomere shortening can, therefore, indicate the biological cost that such stresses exact on an individual and provide an important link between these and the aging process.

The student will use the unique Seychelles warbler (SW) systemto undertake a longitudinal study of telomeres in a wild population. The long-term study of an isolated island population means we have detailed information on the factors experienced by individuals each year, linked to annual blood samples taken from those individuals.We also have accurate measures of survival and reproductive success. We recently developed a method to measure telomeres from blood samples and have shown that telomere shortening reflects biological ageing in the SW: telomere shortening with age differs between individuals and predicts survival and recruitment. The proposed PhD will now investigate the relative costs of different stresses/experiences by relating annual telomere-shortening rate to the stresses they have faced in that year. Experimental manipulations will allow them to hone in on specific factors, i.e. reproductive effort and helping behaviour. Importantly comparisons, not only between stresses, but also in respect to the age and life-history stage at which they are experienced, can be made. This will allow the student to compare how the costs and benefits of investment in different life-history components, or in dealing with environmental stresses, are traded off. Finally, the student will test the idea that individual variation in telomere shortening reflects an individual’s ability to withstand these stresses and, therefore, provides an indicator of individual quality.

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The student will be involved in all aspects of field and laboratory work and collaborate with an international team of researchers working on the SW.


Competition Funded Project (UK & European Students Only). Please refer to the NERC website for the full list of EU countries and further eligibility information: www.nerc.ac.uk/funding/available/postgrad/eligibility.asp. If you are a citizen of a European Union (EU) member state you will generally be eligible for a fees-only award.

Entry Requirements:

A first or upper second class UK honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in Biology, Zoology, Ornithology, Ecology, Molecular Biology or closely related subjects.

Making Your Application:

Please apply via the University’s online application system which can be accessed by clicking the Apply Link below. To discuss the application process or particular projects, please contact the: Admissions Office, email: pgr.enquiries.admiss@uea.ac.uk or telephone +44 (0)1603 591709. 

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