Dr Reinmar Hager (MSc, PhD) - postgraduate opportunities
A systems-genetics analysis of complex traits and their evolution
Systems-genetics is a novel approach to understand how phenotypes arise from genetic variation that utilizes phenotype, gene expression and DNA seq data from genetic reference populations. In this project we will be using the largest genetic reference panel in mammals, the BXD mouse family. This set allows the joint analysis of hundreds of phenotypes (generated across labs and at different times) because the BXD set is genetically defined. Thus, we can use advanced genotype-phenotype mapping tools as well as network analyses to establish how variation in the DNA sequence generates variation in gene expression and finally differences among individuals in their phenotypes, and how both genetic variants and phenotypes are connected in functional networks. We focus on developmental (growth, obesity phenotypes, physiological traits) and behavioural phenotypes (maternal, offspring behaviour, fitness traits) generated in specifically designed experiments that measure maternal genetic, offspring genetic and epigenetic effects.
The project requires a keen interest in empirical work with mouse models, bioinformatic and statistical analyses as well as concepts in evolution, behaviour and development such as developmental plasticity, genomic imprinting and parent-offspring coadaptation.
The impact of hormonal contraception on physiology and behaviour in social mammals
Injectable or implantable contraceptives typically are used to control reproductive rates, but more recently are also administered to manipulate behaviour of individuals. One contraceptive that is being trialled is Deslorelin, a GnRH agnostic, which suppresses the production of sex hormones (testosterone and oestrogen). GnRH hormonal suppressants have been shown to reduce aggression rates in males and may facilitate multi-male group housing. However, these contraceptives can lead to the loss of secondary sexual characteristics, weight gain and have unknown long-term physiological and reproductive impacts. The long-term consequences for reproductive health are important as in small captive populations it desirable to restore genetically important individuals to a reproductive status.
Understanding the impacts of these contraceptives on both reproductive physiology and behaviour is crucial for verifying their use in management of both male and female species. This project will assess the impact of deslorelin GnRH treatment on Sulawesi crested macaque Macaca nigra physiology and social behaviour across EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) institutions. This project will be in collaboration with Chester Zoo/North of England Zoological Society. An alternative project will be to explore the impact of contraception on the social behaviour of free-ranging ponies in Snowdonia.
- Bertschinger HJ, Asa CS, Calle PP, Long JA, Bauman K, DeMatteo K, Jöchle W, Trigg TE, Human A. (2001) Control of reproduction and sex related behaviour in exotic wild carnivores with the GnRH analogue deslorelin: preliminary observations. J Reprod Fertil Suppl. 2001; 57:275-83.
- Larson, S., Belting, T., Rifenbury, K., Fisher, G. and Boutelle, S. M. (2012), Preliminary Findings of Fecal Gonadal Hormone Concentrations in Six Captive Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris) after Deslorelin Implantation. Zoo Biol.. doi: 10.1002/zoo.21032