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PhD Position in Molecular Basis of Vocal Learning at University of St Andrews

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A PhD student is sought to investigate the molecular and genetic bases of vocal learning using a range of cutting edge techniques and model systems. The project will ask how this complex behaviour can be encoded at molecular level by investigating genetic mechanisms and genomic factors. The student will receive comprehensive training to use diverse approaches including molecular, cellular and functional assays, design and testing of genetic engineering methods (CRISPR, shRNA etc), viral packaging, transcriptomics, proteomics and in silico genomic approaches.

The student will have the opportunity to work with our extraordinary model system – bats. We have been pioneering the study of bats as neurogenetic models and established them to explore the molecular mechanisms underlying vocal learning and to understand the biology and evolution of speech and language. We have recently generated the first successful genetically engineered bats (transient transgenics) and the student will apply the methods developed in the group, as well as develop new transgenic bat models as part of their project. Working with live animals is not a requirement, as the project is predominantly molecular lab based, but there will be the opportunity to work with the animals if it is desired by the student. This model will shed light onto the molecular encoding of mammalian vocal learning and represent a sophisticated model to provide insight into the mechanisms underlying childhood disorders of language.

We are a highly interdisciplinary and collaborative lab and the PhD student will work closely with highly supportive lab members and our rich network of interdisciplinary collaborators, many of whom are world leaders in the field. The student will also be encouraged to present their findings at international conferences (in person or online) and may visit the lab(s) of international collaborators for research stays and knowledge exchange. The PI leads an international genomics consortium, www.bat1k, that is a vibrant community of more than 350 members across >50 countries, which provides many opportunities for interaction, training, knowledge exchange and future career opportunities.

This project will provide an excellent opportunity for a student with a keen interest in molecular biology to train in both established as well as new cutting-edge methods applicable to most model systems. Training and personal development will be a key aspect of the PhD and we will work with the student to develop a training plan that suits their needs and personal goals. This will include training in scientific methods, but also in personal and professional development (eg. project design and management, communication skills, writing skills, etc) and will be bolstered by the excellent training available from the transferable skills programme at the University of St Andrews. Many of our lab members are also involved in outreach initiatives and we support students to become involved in local, national or international initiatives according to their interests.

The project will be hosted in the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews and benefit from interactions across its three internationally renowned research centres; The Scottish Oceans Institute (SOI), Biomedical Sciences Research Complex (BSRC) and Centre for Biological Diversity (CBD). The incredibly rich research environment and excellent facilities present in the School have led to the School of Biology continuing to be scored by the National Student Survey as one of the top biology schools in the UK. In the student satisfaction led survey, The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022, the University of St Andrews was ranked as the top UK university, evidence of the rich student environment and social and collegiate atmosphere that leads to a highly positive experience for students at St Andrews.

How To Apply

Please make a formal application to the School of Biology through our Online Application Portal.

We require the following documents; CV, personal statement, 2 references, academic qualifications, English language qualification (if applicable).

Keywords: Bats, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Transgenics, Genetic engineering, CRISPR, Evolution, Neuroscience, Speech and language disorders, Animal communication,

Funding Notes
This is a fully funded PhD position. Funding covers full tuition fees (Home or Overseas) and a living allowance for 3.5 years.

Vernes, S. C. (2017). What bats have to say about speech and language. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 24(1), 111-117. doi:10.3758/s13423-016-1060-3.
Jebb, D., et al. (2020). Six reference-quality genomes reveal evolution of bat adaptations. Nature, 583, 578-584. doi:10.1038/s41586-020-2486-3.
Devanna, P., Chen, X. S., Ho, J., Gajewski, D., Smith, S. D., Gialluisi, A., Francks, C., Fisher, S. E., Newbury, D. F., & Vernes, S. C. (2018). Next-gen sequencing identifies non-coding variation disrupting miRNA binding sites in neurological disorders. Molecular Psychiatry, 23(5), 1375-1384. doi:10.1038/mp.2017.30.


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