PhD studentship: Characterising fat tissue structure and function in grey seals, an animal model of extreme fat deposition and m


Abertay University, Dundee
Closing date: 
09 July 2017
Dr Kimberley Bennett

Knowledge of energy balance regulation is central to understanding how animals and humans cope in a changing and increasingly ‘obesogenic’ environment. Obesity is a major socio-economic and human health problem. As fat cells grow, divide and become distant from the blood supply they become hypoxic and produce reactive species (RS). In humans RS trigger inflammation and further adipogenesis. However, seals can gain large fat depots rapidly without apparent detrimental effects. Understanding the regulation of their adiposity is of crucial importance because body fatness is a key driver of juvenile survival and of adult reproductive fitness. This project thus provides the biological underpinning of the physiological ecology of an important UK top predator and the comparative physiology of adipose function.

This project will involve using novel in vivo and in vitro approaches to understand how and when seal blubber produces and responds to RS. The successful candidate will optimise and use new methods to measure oxygen, pH, RS and temperature in blubber; optimise and use microscopy and immunohistochemistry methods to investigate blubber tissue structure; develop tools to measure gene expression and activation of cell signalling pathways in blubber; and develop and use in vitro methods to establish how redox signalling in fat tissue is altered by manipulation of redox pathways, and consequences for adipose function.

Candidates should have a background in biology, zoology, or a related discipline, an honours degree with a strong element of molecular or cell biology or biochemistry and be able to demonstrate clear competence in the laboratory. The successful applicant will show a keen interest in adipose physiology, energy balance or redox biology and should be highly self-motivated with good problem solving skills. Applicants must have excellent written and oral communication skills, strong interpersonal skills and possess competence in statistical approaches. Experience with histological, biochemical or molecular biology techniques will be an advantage. The successful applicant will be expected to undertake necessary field work, visit partner institutions at formal meetings and informally as required, and present the work at international fora in biological sciences, and therefore must be willing to travel within the UK and overseas.

Candidates can expect to develop an excellent working knowledge of redox signalling and adipose biology in a non-model species, gain valuable fieldwork skills, including techniques to investigate whole animal and in vivo physiology, and acquire a range of cutting-edge laboratory skills. The successful applicant will join an interdisciplinary team from biology and sports and exercise physiology and will contribute to the growing Comparative and Molecular Physiology group that spans the School of Social and Health Science and the School of Science, Engineering and Technology. The studentship will be based at Abertay University and will maintain and strengthen links with the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews.

The PhD studentship provides a package valued at around £75,000. This includes a fully funded tax free stipend of £14,553 per year over 3 and a half years, tuition fees as well as a travel and equipment budget. The studentships is available for an October 2017 start for a period of up to 3.5 years. You will be expected to undertake limited teaching duties of no more than 70 hours a year. We provide training on this activity and it is a valuable part of career development.

Entry requirements
A related Masters level qualification is desirable but not essential, but candidates must have, or expect to obtain a first class or upper second-class honours degree in a relevant discipline as detailed above. For applicants who are non-native speakers of English, the University requires IELTS of 6.5 (with no band less than 6.5) or an equivalent qualification accepted by the Home Office.
Applicants should submit through HIREWIRE submitting a personal statement of application detailing which project you are interested in, why you are interested in undertaking this project and a CV. (NOTE: HIREWIRE ONLY ALLOWS YOU TO SUBMIT ONE DOCUMENT, PLEASE MERGE YOUR SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS).

If you are selected for interview you will be required to complete an online Research Degree Student Application Form which includes the submission of a research proposal. Guidance on how to write the proposal can be found here: , under 'how to apply'. Applicants are also encouraged to contact Dr Kimberley Bennett ( for advice on developing a proposal prior to submitting it.

The closing date for submissions is Midnight on Sunday 9 July 2017. Submissions after this date will not be considered. Interviews are likely to be held during the weeks 31 July – 11 August