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Postgraduate research project

From Reefs to Brains: Corals to study Evolution of GPCRs and neurotransmission

Fully funded (UK and international)
Type of degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Entry requirements
2:1 honours degree View full entry requirements
Faculty graduate school
Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences
Closing date

About the project

Neurotransmitters are crucial regulators of biological processes in animals, including humans. In corals, these molecules are believed to be vital in controlling various functions such as growth, response to environmental stressors, reproduction, and settlement patterns. Now we are looking to identify novel coral neuropeptides and identify their receptors.

Neurotransmitters are vital signaling molecules in animal nervous systems, affecting functions like sleep, memory, and behavior through G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). Traditionally focused on bilaterian animals such as mice and rats, the scope of neurotransmitter research is expanding to include non-bilaterian cnidarians—jellyfish, sea anemones, and corals. These ancient organisms are key to deciphering the evolution of nervous systems and are integral to marine ecosystems and global oceanic processes. This pioneering project seeks to explore the basic biology of coral neuronal signaling, particularly the identification and functional analysis of GPCRs in the coral Stylophora pistillata. This research is poised to provide insights into coral interactions with their environment, with implications for both evolutionary biology and the conservation of these pivotal marine organisms.

To achieve this, you will employ a combination of bioinformatic analyses, including phylogenetic techniques and prediction tools, to identify enzymes producing neurotransmitters, neuropeptides and GPCRs in Stylophora pistillata genome. Subsequently, advanced mass spectrometry will be utilized to detect these neurotransmitters in coral tissues. Identified receptors will then be cloned using molecular cloning techniques and analysed using High-Throughput deorphanisation Assays to pair orphan receptors with potential neurotransmitters and uncover new ligand-receptor interactions and signalling pathways.

We invite a motivated individual eager to investigate the origins of neural signaling and its evolutionary implications. The candidate will receive training in advanced techniques such as mass spectrometry, molecular biology, GPCR pharmacology, large-scale deorphanisations, and coral biology. The student will have opportunities to present their findings at international forums, contributing to a comprehensive understanding of marine neurobiology and its conservation significance.

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