Epigenetic clocks and parental aging effects in an island population of Seychelles warblers

RICHARDSON_U22DTP

This novel project will investigate the effects of parental biological age on offspring health and fitness in the Seychelles warbler.

 Individual variation in ageing (the deterioration of physiological function and performance in later life) occurs within most animal populations. Importantly, this ageing may also impact the health and quality of offspring produced by parents of different ages (e.g., the Lansing effect). However, parental biological age at conception (the age an individual’s functionality reflects, not their chronological age), should be used to investigate such intergenerational effects – a point that has been overlooked in studies so far.

 Our long-term monitoring of an isolated island population of Seychelles warblers, where all individuals, and their offspring, are measured and sampled throughout their lives, provides a unique opportunity to study the impact of parental ageing without the confounding issues of unnatural conditions or medical interventions. We already have samples and health, reproduction and survival data on 1000’s of individuals. Previous work confirms that individual variation in ageing occurs in this population and that parental chronological age impacts offspring fitness. Importantly, a pilot study shows that epigentic clocks that reflect biological age in the warbler can be generated from measures of DNA methylation. This population therefore provides the resources for an excellent, ground-breaking study.

 This PhD offers an exceptional training opportunity, working on cutting-edge conceptual questions within a world-class research environment. You will gain a wide range of research skills including epigenomic sequencing, bioinformatics, relational database use, and statistical modelling. There will also be a fieldwork component. You will also receive excellent general training from the Norwich Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership. Based at UEA, supervised by David Richardson, Dave Monk and Martin Taylor (UEA), and Hannah Dugdale (Groningen), in collaboration with Seychelles Warbler Research Project.

References 

Hammers, M, Kingma, S, Spurgin, L, Bebbington, K, Dugdale, H, Burke, T, Komdeur, J & Richardson, DS (2019). Breeders that receive help age more slowly in a cooperatively breeding bird. Nature Communications. 10, (1) 130140.

Brown, T. J., Spurgin, L. G., Dugdale, H. L., Komdeur, J., Burke, T., & Richardson, D. S. (2021). Causes and consequences of telomere lengthening in a wild vertebrate population. Molecular Ecology, 00, 1– 13. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.16059

Levine ME, Lu AT, Quach A, Chen BH, Assimes TL, Bandinelli S, Hou L, Baccarelli AA, Stewart JD, Li Y, Whitsel EA, Wilson JG, Reiner AP, et al. An epigenetic biomarker of aging for lifespan and healthspan. Aging. 2018; 10:573-591. https://doi.org/10.18632/aging.101414