Prof Andrew Bourke, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia
Prof Alexei Maklakov, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia
Prof Tracey Chapman, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia
Explaining patterns of ageing in organisms is essential for both our scientific 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. Specifically, in social animals, it remains unknown whether longevity and ageing depend primarily on properties of the individual or group. Likewise, it is unknown whether the expression of genes in ageing-associated pathways depends on individual or social factors. This project’s main aim is to resolve these fundamental questions using experimental and genetic approaches in the eusocial bumble bee Bombus terrestris.
We recently 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 the 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 student will design and perform experiments to separate out individual and social influences on longevity (Objective 1). For example, experiments will test whether young workers transferred from early-stage colonies into late-stage colonies live longer or shorter lives. In similar experiments, the student will also use quantitative PCR (qPCR) to measure how or whether genes in ageing-associated pathways change their expression levels in response to such manipulations (Objective 2) .
Training and person specification:
Alongside training opportunities provided by the DTP, the student will receive research training and generic, transferable training within the supervisors’ well-supported research groups. Research training will provide expertise in bee ecology and evolutionary theory plus advanced skills in insect husbandry, designing experiments, molecular techniques (RNA extraction, qPCR) and data analysis. Generic, transferable training will cover project management, written and oral communication and career development. The student will be encouraged to shape the project’s direction as it develops.
This studentship would suit a motivated individual with a BSc or MSc in Biology, Ecology, Genetics or Zoology.