Probiotic interventions for understanding gut microbiome-mediated behaviour in wildlife

DAVIDSON_U23DTP

SCIENTIFIC BACKGROUND
The gut microbiome influences how animals behave and interact with their environment through the microbiome-gut-brain-axis (MGBA). There is urgent need to understand how the MGBA operates in wild animals because cognition and behaviour facilitate rapid responses to global environmental change. Wild animals harbour more complex microbiomes compared to traditional laboratory rodent systems, therefore, integrative and intervention methods applied to wild populations are vital to advance knowledge in this field. This project will ask how natural microbiome variation affects behavioural phenotypes and overcome the challenge of manipulating the microbiome in non-model species.

METHODS
You will work with great tits (Parus major), an important, intensively studied wild avian model with well described individual-level variation in gut microbiota and behaviour. This project is highly interdisciplinary, crossing traditional research boundaries to combine cognitive and behavioural ecology, microbiology and molecular genetics to understand microbiome-mediated behaviour.

The following objectives will be prioritised and developed according to your interests:

1) Describe and compare the genetic function of gut microbes cultured and sequenced from wild bird faeces across habitat gradients.

2) Test the efficacy of host-origin probiotics, i.e. microbial isolates derived from birds, that colonise when ingested and have health benefits.

3) Determine the gut microbiome’s role in mediating behaviour through probiotic intervention methods paired with behavioural and cognitive assays.

TRAINING
You will join a dynamic, supportive research environment at UEA and the Quadram Institute, with opportunities to train at the NIOO-KNAW avian facility in the Netherlands. You will develop conceptual understanding and critical thinking in animal health, integrative microbiome research and behavioural biology. You will gain interdisciplinary research skills including fieldwork, molecular biology, bioinformatics, statistical analyses, writing and communication. Training to increase transferable skills and enhance employability will also be provided.

PERSON SPECIFICATION
Degree in Biology/ related field with fieldwork, molecular and/or analytical experience essential.

References

Davidson, GL, Raulo, A, Knowles, SCL (2020) Identifying microbiome-mediated behaviour in wild vertebrates. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 35:11, 972-980. (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2020.06.014).

Davidson, GL, Wiley, N, Cooke, AC, Johnson, CN, Fouhy, F, Reichert, MS, de la Hera, I, Crane, JMS, Kulahci, IG, Ross PR, Stanton, C, Quinn, JL (2020) Diet induces parallel changes to the gut microbiota and problem solving performance in a wild bird. Scientific Reports. 10, 20783. (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-77256-y).

Davidson, GL, Cooke, AC, Johnson, CN, Quinn, JL. (2018) The microbiome as a driver of individual differences in cognition and functional behaviour. Phil Trans R Soc B. 373: 20170286. (https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2017.0286).

Kujawska M, Raulo A, Baltrunaite L, Knowles SC, Hall LJ. 2022 Bifidobacterium castoris strains isolated from wild mice show evidence of frequent host switching and diverse carbohydrate metabolism potential. ISME Commun. 2, 20. (https://dio.org/10.1038/s43705-022-00102-x)

Lee VE, Thornton A. 2021 Animal Cognition in an Urbanised World. Front. Ecol. Evol. 9. (https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2021.633947).