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Comparative Physiology and Evolution of Neuropeptide Signalling

Background

Neuropeptides and peptide hormones have fundamental roles in controlling, regulating and integrating physiological and behavioural processes in humans and other animals. I am interested in reconstructing the evolutionary history of neuropeptide signalling systems and investigating how neuropeptides are utilised to co-ordinate physiological processes and behaviour in animals.

The primary focus of my neuropeptide research is on echinoderms (starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers), which are of special interest for a number of reasons. Firstly, as deuterostomes, echinoderms are much more closely related to vertebrates than the majority of invertebrates, and therefore research on echinoderms can shed light on the evolutionary origins of vertebrate characters.

Secondly, echinoderms have many remarkable morphological and physiological characteristics – they are typically five-sided and have a unique ability to rapidly change (under neural control) the stiffness of body wall collagenous tissue; they also have amazing powers of regeneration, which makes them of great interest from a medical perspective.

Thirdly, echinoderms are of economic importance both as predators on shellfish (starfish) and as foodstuffs (sea urchins, sea cucumbers).

I pioneered research on neuropeptides in echinoderms with the discovery of the SALMFamide neuropeptide family (Elphick et al., 1991). Now over twenty years later we are entering a new era for research on neuropeptide systems in echinoderms. Sequencing of the genomes/transcriptomes of several echinoderm species is providing fascinating new insights on the evolution and diversity of neuropeptide systems (Rowe and Elphick, 2012; Elphick, 2012; Elphick et al., 2013; Semmens et al., 2013).

Moreover, with the falling cost of DNA sequencing, any echinoderm species is now accessible to transcriptomic analysis of neuropeptide systems. For the first time we can comprehensively investigate neuropeptide function in animals that hitherto were intractable for molecular physiological studies.

Utilising recently obtained neural transcriptome data, my lab is using the common starfish Asterias rubens as a model system to investigate the evolution and physiological roles of neuropeptide systems and I welcome applications from students interested in PhD projects in this field of research.

Training

Training in a wide-range of research techniques will be provided, including bioinformatics, genomics, transcriptomics, peptidomics, molecular histology, in vitro pharmacology and behavioural studies. Personalised training in writing and communication skills will be provided, complemented with generic transferable skills training from the QMUL Learning Institute.

For more information about School and College training visit our student support page.

Eligibility

Funding through China Scholarship Council

Applicants should be Chinese nationals and are required to have at least an upper second class degree and a masters degree in either Biology, Zoology, Physiology, Neuroscience, Molecular/Cellular Biology, Pharmacology or Biochemistry from a top university anywhere in the world.

International students must provide evidence of proficient English language skills, see our entry requirements page for further information.

Experience of laboratory-based research involving use of one or more of the following techniques would also be desirable, but not essential:

  • Bioinformatics
  • Cloning, sequencing and expression of cDNAs
  • In vitro / in vivo pharmacology; mRNA in situ hybridisation
  • Immunocytochemistry
  • Biomechanics

Funding through CONACYT

Applicant requirements are listed on the CONACYT foreign scholarship pages.

International students must provide evidence of proficient English language skills, see our entry requirements page for further information.

Experience of laboratory-based research involving use of one or more of the following techniques would also be desirable, but not essential:

  • Bioinformatics
  • Cloning, sequencing and expression of cDNAs
  • In vitro / in vivo pharmacology; mRNA in situ hybridisation
  • Immunocytochemistry
  • Biomechanics

Funding through Ciência sem Fronteiras

Applicants must be Brazilian nationals and are required to have at least an upper second class degree and a masters degree in either Biology, Zoology, Physiology, Neuroscience, Molecular/Cellular Biology, Pharmacology or Biochemistry from a top university anywhere in the world.

International students must provide evidence of proficient English language skills, see our entry requirements page for further information.

Experience of laboratory-based research involving use of one or more of the following techniques would also be desirable, but not essential:

  • Bioinformatics
  • Cloning, sequencing and expression of cDNAs
  • In vitro / in vivo pharmacology; mRNA in situ hybridisation
  • Immunocytochemistry
  • Biomechanics

Self-funding

If you are interested in self-funding please contact Prof. Elphick by e-mail (m.r.elphick@qmul.ac.uk) to discuss your eligibility for this project.

 

Application process

Funding through China Scholarship Council

Applications for 2015 entry have now closed. To express your interest in this project for 2016 please contact Prof. Elphick by e-mail (m.r.elphick@qmul.ac.uk).

  1. Potential candidates should contact Prof. Elphick by e-mail (m.r.elphick@qmul.ac.uk) so that an informal discussion can be arranged using Skype. It is strongly recommended that you make contact with Prof. Elphick by 5th January 2015.
  2. If he agrees to take you application further you will need to submit an application via the Queen Mary online application form.
  3. If you are successful you will be made an offer on the condition that you are given a funding award from the China Scholarship Council.
  4. When you have received a conditional offer, apply directly to the China Scholarship Council.

Funding through CONACYT

  1. Potential candidates should contact Prof. Elphick by e-mail (m.r.elphick@qmul.ac.uk) and submit their CV and a cover letter explaining their eligibility and interest in this project.
  2. Applications to Queen Mary are accepted all year round but we encourage you to contact Prof. Elphick as soon as possible. If he agrees to take your application further you will be required to submit an online application.
  3. If you are successful we will give you an offer on the condition that you are given a funding award from CONACYT.
  4. When you have received a conditional offer from us, you should apply directly to CONACYT.

Funding through Ciência sem Fronteiras

  1. Potential candidates should contact Prof. Elphick by e-mail (m.r.elphick@qmul.ac.uk) so that an informal discussion can be arranged using Skype.
  2. Applications to Queen Mary and Ciência sem Fronteiras are accepted all year round but we encourage you to contact Prof. Elphick as soon as possible.
  3. If you are successful we will give you an offer on the condition that you are given a funding award from Ciência sem Fronteiras.
  4. When you have received a conditional offer, apply directly to Ciência sem Fronteiras.

Publications

View a list publications from Prof Maurice Elphick

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