Professor Alexei Maklakov (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)
Professor Tracey Chapman (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)
Explaining patterns of ageing in organisms is essential for both our understanding of the diversity of life histories and our ability to manipulate them in beneficial ways. Yet, despite the overall success of the evolutionary theory of ageing, substantial gaps in our understanding remain. How ageing interacts with sociality is unclear and, specifically, in social animals, it remains unknown whether longevity and ageing depend primarily on properties of the individual or group, at either phenotypic or genetic levels. This project’s main aim is to resolve these fundamental questions using experimental and genetic approaches in the bumble bee Bombus terrestris – a model eusocial organism and a key pollinator. We have found that B. terrestris workers produced early in the colony cycle have significantly greater longevities than later-produced workers (Holland and Bourke 2015). The project’s specific objectives will therefore be to discriminate between individual- and group-level hypotheses for this difference using experiments to measure the longevities and gene expression levels of workers as a function of individual and social factors.
Working with B. terrestris colonies in the laboratory at UEA, the candidate will design and perform experiments to separate out individual and social influences on longevity. For example, experiments will test whether young workers transferred from early-stage colonies into late-stage colonies live longer or shorter lives (Objective 1). In similar experiments, the candidate will use quantitative PCR (qPCR) to determine whether genes in ageing-associated pathways change their expression levels in response to such manipulations (Objective 2).
Alongside training opportunities provided by the DTP, the candidate will receive research training and generic, transferable training within the supervisors’ research groups. Research training will provide expertise in bee ecology, evolutionary theory and pollinator biology plus advanced skills in insect husbandry, experimental design, molecular techniques (RNA extraction, qPCR) and data analysis. Generic, transferable training will cover project management, written and oral communication and career development.
The candidate will be encouraged to shape the project’s direction as it develops. We welcome applications from motivated individuals with a degree in Biology, Ecology, Genetics or Zoology.