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Mining apical organ evolution in marine ciliated larvae.

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Qualification Type: PhD, Professional Doctorate
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students
Funding amount: BBSRC SWBio DTP funded CASE studentship available for September 2022 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,609 per annum for 2022-23, on a full time basis.
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 22nd October 2021
Closes: 6th December 2021
Reference: 4283

The majority of marine benthic invertebrates develop into adults via a ciliated larval stage that forms part of the zooplankton. 

In many species, this larval stage is characterised by a cilial tuft known as the apical organ. Understanding how the ciliated larvae behave towards environmental cues is key to understanding planktonic migration. These marine ciliated larvae freely swim to discover a favourable ecological niche, vital for their survival success. Given the specificity of the apical organ to the larval stage, it has been proposed to serve a function in guiding larval swimming behaviour and larval settlement, which are critical processes for the formation and maintenance of benthic habitats. Apical organs appear in the majority of marine invertebrates; however, the evolutionary trajectory of these sensory organs is still unresolved. 

Despite its apparent evolutionary and ecological significance, the function, morphology and molecular fingerprint of the apical organ in non-bilaterians remains largely unexplored. To this end, we aim to explore the evolution of apical organs by comparing animals from different phyletic groups and revealing the apical organ's homology.  Research methodology  The student will contribute to culturing and maintaining the selected list of animals from each phyletic group and, if necessary, help establish a new culture organism. For each chosen species, the larvae will be subjected to spatial transcriptomics. 

The transcriptome data will be analysed to generate a spatial/molecular map of the larval cell types of each species. Using in situ hybridisations (ISH) and immunohistochemistry, the student will validate expression patterns and the distribution of cell types. Finally, the data from bioinformatic analysis and ISH will be used for homology analysis. Overall, the study will enlighten the evolution of a key larval sensory structure.   

Eligibility 

To be eligible for a fully-funded studentship, you must meet both the academic and residence criteria. 

Please refer to the regulations or Annex 1 of the Research Council Training Grant Guide to confirm that you meet the residence criteria for a fully-funded studentship.  Any further queries in relation to residency must be directed to the institution that you are applying to. 

* An enhanced stipend is available for students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£24,090 per annum for 2022-2023). There may also be enhanced stipends associated with projects that have a CASE partner (CASE projects are highlighted as *CASE in the project lists). 

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a 1st or 2:1 UK Honours degree, or equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.  Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Masters degree or significant relevant non-academic experience.   

In addition, a minimum of a grade B in A-level Maths or equivalent qualification or experience is required.   

Equivalent qualifications/experience   

  • Physics A-level (grade B and above)  
  • Undertaking units as part of your degree that have a significant mathematical component*  

* eg maths, statistics, bioinformatics.  

Applicants must highlight their Maths background within their application and upload any supporting evidence.   

Language Requirements 

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.5 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable, please see  http://www.bristol.ac.uk/study/language-requirements/profile-c/

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