Epigenetic clocks of biological age and the intergenerational consequences of ageing in the Seychelles warbler

RICHARDSON_U23DTP

This exciting PhD will investigate how parental biological age at conception impacts offspring health and fitness – a question with important evolutionary, ecological and applied ramifications.

Individual variation in senescence (the deterioration of physiological function and performance in later life) occurs within most animals. Importantly, this may also impact the health and condition of offspring produced by older parents.

However, parental biological age at conception (the age their functionality reflects), not their chronological age, should be used to investigate such intergenerational effects – a point that has been totally overlooked in studies so far.

Our long-term monitoring of an isolated island population of Seychelles warblers, where all individuals and their offspring are monitored throughout their lives, provides a unique opportunity to study the impact of parental ageing under natural conditions.

We already have samples and health, reproduction and survival data for 1000’s of individuals, but fieldwork will extend this data. Previous work has shown that individual variation in ageing occurs in this population.

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 perfect resources for a powerful ground-breaking study with the poptential to produce very high impact research.

This PhD offers an exceptional training opportunity, working on cutting-edge conceptual questions, joining a friendly, dynamic and collaborate group, within a world-class research environment.

You will gain a wide range of research skills including fieldwork, animal handling, molecular skills, epigenomic sequencing, bioinformatics, relational database use and data analysis.

You will also receive excellent general training from the NRPDTP. Based at UEA, supervised by David S Richardson, Dave Monk, Martin Taylor (UEA), and Hannah Dugdale (Groningen), and as part of the international Seychelles Warbler Project.

http://seychelles-warbler-project.group.shef.ac.uk/
https://www.rug.nl/staff/h.l.dugdale/?lang=en
https://archive.uea.ac.uk/~b141/index.html
https://research-portal.uea.ac.uk/en/persons/david-monk

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

Hammers, M, Kingma, SA, van Boheemen LA, Sparks, AM, Burke, T, Dugdale, HL, Richardson, DS*, Komdeur J* (2021) Helpers compensate for age-related declines in parental care and offspring survival in a cooperatively breeding bird. Evolution Letters. 5 (2)143-153

Fairfield, E, Richardson, DS, Daniels, C, Butler, C, Bell, ED. & Taylor, M (2021), Ageing European lobsters (Homarus gammarus) using DNA methylation of evolutionarily conserved ribosomal DNA. In: Evolutionary Applications. 14, 9, p. 2305-2318

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