A bioenergetics perspective of glucocorticoid-mediated performance

We are seeking a PhD student to join the Evolutionary Physiology research group led by Prof. Michaela Hau. The overall interest of the group is to understand the individual variability observed in the physiological and behavioral processes that allow adjustments to environmental changes, and the consequences of these adjustments for reproductive success and longevity.

Background. Individuals of all species have to successfully cope with everyday challenges to survive and reproduce. In vertebrates, well conserved physiological processes exist for dealing with both predictable challenges in nature as well as unpredictable stressors. Glucocorticoid hormones are an important component of individual adjustments to challenges and they fulfil their functions by mobilizing stored resources and up-regulating metabolism to provide the energy required for such coping processes. An activation of these processes, especially when emergency functions are initiated during times of stress, can come with costs paid later in life. Such costs can be manifested in damage to DNA, especially to the length of telomeres, which are protective caps of chromosomes that shorten with age and with exposure to stressors. Telomeres also have crucial functions in regulating the cell cycle and can affect fitness. Even though understanding the dynamics of telomere length is fundamental in vertebrates including humans, how and why telomeres shorten when glucocorticoids are up-regulated is not yet known. With this project we aim at investigating the physiological pathways by which glucocorticoids determine telomere dynamics and the resulting fitness consequences, by closely studying the glucocorticoid-metabolism interaction within the mitochondria of wild great tits.

Position Details and Qualifications. The student will focus on understanding the interplay between glucocorticoids, mitochondria and telomeres, as well as the consequences on performance traits like behavior, reproductive success and survival. The study involves intensive field work in the forests around Seewiesen, where we have established nest box populations of wild great tits (Parus major). Field work will include monitoring breeding activities, catching individuals to take blood samples and carrying out behavioral observations. A considerable part of the project will be laboratory work using different kinds of techniques, ranging from enzyme immune assays, high-resolution cell respirometry, as well as TRF (Terminal Restriction Fragment) and qPCR (Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction) assays. The ideal candidate will have experience in at least one of these techniques as well as an enthusiasm for learning the others. Motivation to work in the forest as well as in the lab, to study wild passerines and an ability to develop an independent research rationale is desirable. A collaborative spirit and the ability to work as part of a team are essential. Applicants should have a degree in ecology, zoology, or a related subject. The working language of the group is English.

Research Community. The Max Planck Society is an equal opportunity employer that is committed to provide employment opportunities to all qualified applicants without regard to race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, or disability. It seeks to increase the number of women in those areas where they are underrepresented and therefore explicitly encourages women to apply.

Location. Seewiesen is located in the middle of the Bavarian “blue land” between the lakes of Starnberg and Herrsching at the foot of the German and Austrian Alps and well connected to the nearby city of Munich.

Application Process. Applicants should apply via the IMPRS application system. Please include a CV, a one-page research statement related to the topic of the call, and two letters of recommendation.

Keywords Corticosterone, mitochondrial metabolism, telomeres, oxidative stress, longevity, reproductive investment, pace of life, gene expression, individual differences, field work, birds, evolution

Main advisors Michaela Hau and Stefania Casagrande, MPI for Ornithology, Seewiesen

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