Postgraduate Research Opportunities in the Department of Life Sciences
A postgraduate research degree is your opportunity to explore a topic in depth, under the supervision of academic experts in your chosen field. With extensive training available and access to excellent facilities, you will have the opportunity to carry out your research in a vibrant, supportive, multidisciplinary environment.
The key to success in a postgraduate research programme is to find a research subject that you are passionate about and identify a supervisory team that have expertise in that area. The first thing that all prospective students should do is directly contact a member of staff that they feel is best aligned with their chosen research area to discuss the application process further.
The projects listed on this page provide a selection of those currently available in the School along with details of the appropriate academic contact, but are by no means comprehensive; you may also wish to visit the School of Life Sciences research pages to find out more about the research going on in the subject area you are interested in, and to identify potential academic supervisors.
Royal Society Funded Studentship on Insect Biomechanics
Many insects are spectacular jumpers, and this project delves into the mechanics of how these animals generate their great leaps.
This project will be determining how very small insects (about 50 mg in size; froghoppers, small crickets, and grasshopper nymphs) control their spin in the air when they jump. We will be combining high-speed videography with animal behaviour to characterise jumps. The successful student will compare the different ways these different insects spin. The results are intended to be suitable for use in robotics, with the insects acting as a ‘model system’ for development of small jumping robots. Applicants must be UK citizens. For questions, please contact Professor Gregory Sutton at email@example.com
Understanding and modelling the nanoparticle protein corona
When nanoparticles get in contact with biological fluids such as blood plasma, plasma proteins interact with the nanoparticles and form a protein corona. Nanoparticle-protein complexes have different properties than naked nanoparticles, affecting the functions of nanomedicines, for example accumulation in unintended tissues/organs. Therefore, engineered nanomaterials need to take into account the binding of plasma proteins, but there are many different types of nanomaterials and many proteins in plasma, so the problem is complex and currently unresolved. Projects in this area will study the protein corona to help designing effective nanomedicines and contribute to understand their pharmacokinetics and nanotoxicity. For further information please contact Enrico Ferrari at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our blogsite.
Exploring the functional properties of bird nests in an evolutionary framework
Bird nests vary in their structure and composition and this has been shown to relate to the degree of thermal insulation offered by the walls, to the way that rainwater is absorbed, and to the structural properties of the structure. Whilst data are available for a relatively wide range of UK bird species, there remain a lot of species where variability in nest composition has yet to be explored. The lab-based project will build on existing studies to document the thermal, hydrological and structural properties of nests from previously unstudied birds of individual families. Data will feed into a broader study of the ecological drivers for the evolution of nest structure and composition in European passerines. For more information, please contact Charles Deeming at email@example.com. This project has an October start date.
Measuring the costs of floral UV pattern production
The flowers of many plants possess UV-absorbing zones that are invisible to humans but visible to insects. Due to their position, two different roles have been ascribed to these UV absorbing pigments. First, they aid in pollination as they increase flower attractiveness and pollination efficiency. And second, they offer protection to pollen against the detrimental mutagenic effects of UV radiation, therefore having large implications for plant reproductive success. This project will investigate whether UV pigmentation is costly to produce by growing plants in soils differing in nutrient content and measuring floral UV absorption area and plant performance. For further information please contact Sandra Varga at firstname.lastname@example.org or Carl Soulsbury at email@example.com or visit our blogsite.
Enzymes have widespread use in industry (e.g., food, manufacturing, pharmaceutical) and may be also used in environmental projects, for example in bioremediation. However, enzymes operate within a narrow window of conditions. There is evidence that immobilised enzymes are more stable than loose enzymes in a broader range of conditions, so immobilisation may be an enabling solution for industry and enzymatic bioremediation. Also, immobilisation on nanoparticles may present advantages, such as good diffusion in complex matrices or porous media (for example soils). Projects in this area will deal with the synthesis and characterisation of enzyme-nanoparticle complexes for industrial and environmental biotechnology. For further information please contact Enrico Ferrari at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our blogsite.
Does male shape correlate with male:female interactions in the smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)?
The smooth newt expresses considerable sexual dimorphism during the mating season with males developing dorsal crests that seems to be a factor in mate selection. However, defining what a female finds attractive has relied on linear measures and basic descriptions of shape and may not capture the potentially complex features of a male that are attractive to a female. This study would have two parts – the first is to define variation in male newt shape using geometric morphometrics and then to use behavioural choice experiments to determine whether females are selecting males on the basis of simple or complex measures of shape of real males or images. In addition, related experiments will explore how olfactory cues are important in mate choice. For more information, please contact Charles Deeming at email@example.com or Anna Wilkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org. This project has a February start date.
Analysis of the anatomy and geometry of wing movement in birds
Bird flight is characterised by a range of wings shapes and flight styles that reflect the life history of the species concerned. This range is also reflected in variation in the size and alignment of the bones that form the pectoral girdle, and in the size of the flight muscles. The project will use a combination of dissection of a variety of bird species, work with skeletal specimens, and existing published data, to determine the basic geometry of wing movement in birds. An aim of the study is to provide insight into the anatomical and function features of wing movement that correlate with variation in morphology of the pectoral girdle and the sternum. For further information please contact Dr Charles Deeming email@example.com or Prof. Greg Sutton firstname.lastname@example.org.
Innovative plasmonic assays for easy and sensitive detection of analytes
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for point-of-care diagnostic tests such as those based on lateral flow devices. Projects in this area will develop both laboratory-based and portable tests that harness the peculiar optical properties of gold nanoparticles to detect analytes reliably, rapidly and cheaply. Example of analytes of interest for which plasmonic assays will be developed are endotoxin, other biomolecules of microbial origin, food and environmental pollutants. Endotoxin sensitive detection is a particularly pressing problem, as it is necessary to remove all traces of endotoxin from pharmaceutical products, due to its potentially fatal toxicity. For further information please contact Enrico Ferrari at email@example.com or visit our blogsite.
The impact of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) on fungi-bacteria below ground interactions
Bacteria and fungi are present in all types of soils, making up the two major groups of microorganisms in soils and their interactions range from mutualistic to parasitism. Despite their abundance, how fungi and bacteria communicate in the soil is still relatively poorly understood. Increasing evidence show that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) play an important role in antagonistic interactions between fungi and bacteria in soils. This project will investigate microbial volatiles emitted by soil bacteria and fungi and measure the response of the presence of one organism on the other. For further information please contact Sandra Varga at firstname.lastname@example.org or José Gonzalez-Rodriguez at email@example.com or visit our blogsite.
Avian health and disease epidemiology in Lincoln Swans
Projects are available to investigate the epidemiology of parasite infection and immune status, focussing on blood metrics from individual mute swans sampled on multiple occasions. Projects can be extended to include ecological and behavioural data collection in relation to health and parasite infection. For further information please contact Jenny Dunn at JDunn@lincoln.ac.uk or visit our blogsite. Additional bench fees may be required, depending on the project.
Host-parasite community dynamics
Multiple projects are available to add to and analyse datasets of host-parasite associations in passerine birds in Lincoln, passerine birds in Africa, or Columbiforme birds in the UK and Africa. These can include projects on coinfection, impacts of infection, morphological characterisation of molecular lineages, drivers of infection prevalence, among others (see our blogsite for more ideas and previous publications); additional bench fees may be required, depending on the project. Please contact Jenny Dunn JDunn@lincoln.ac.uk for more information.
Temperature, fertility, and population persistence: a transgenerational field study in the large white butterfly
Can butterflies survive heatwaves in the UK? Rising global temperatures are causing species to go locally extinct. Studies that attempt to predict whether organisms will adapt to climate change typically look at whether they can survive in a location at increasingly high average temperatures and under temperature extremes, such as heatwaves. However, temperature is known to not only impact survival, but importantly also alter an organism’s fertility. This MSc by Research, which is part-funded by the British Ecological Society, will investigate the effects of heatwaves on populations of the large white butterfly (Pieris brassicae) by simulating the effects of heatwaves on butterflies held in outdoor enclosures, and using data on fertility, metabolism and micro-climatic conditions to model local extinction risk. To apply, please send a 2-page CV and a cover letter to Dr Graziella Iossa by 31 October 2022. This project has a January 2023 start date.
Understanding the regulation of myosin VI and its role in disease
Myosins are motor proteins that transport cargo within our cells and maintain the morphology of cellular structures by interacting with the actin cytoskeleton. Myosin VI is a myosin with unique properties that is involved in many vital cellular processes. Therefore, it is not surprising that myosin VI has been linked to various pathologies, including aggressive cancers. To perform its multiple roles, MVI needs to be tightly regulated by various mechanisms that ensure that MVI is activated at the right time and cellular location. Various projects are in offer that aim to explore the unsolved aspects of myosin VI regulation and how these contribute to pathology. The research will involve a combination of molecular and cell biology, protein biochemistry and fluorescence microscopy, and the projects could be tailored based on your interests. For further information please contact Natali Fili at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colour vision in flies
There is evidence that some fly species perceive colours as falling into one of four discrete categories; two colours that fall in the same colour category would therefore be predicted to be indistinguishable. However, there is still a lot we do not know about this system: for example, at least one of these categories has only been hypothesised and there is not (as yet) any experimental evidence to support it; moreover, it is unclear whether flies are able perceive some colour variation within a category, the extent to which their categorical colour vision is context-dependent (the existing evidence is almost entirely based on foraging tasks, for instance), or how widespread categorical colour vision is. This project would explore these questions by running psychophysical studies (i.e., those looking at behavioural responses to physical changes in visual stimuli) on a variety of wild and captive fly species. For further information please contact Tom Pike at email@example.com.
Polarisation-sensitive vision in fish
While invisible to humans, for many species the polarisation of light is not only detectable but can provide pertinent visual information. Recent studies have suggested that patterns of polarisation could be used (in a similar way to patterns of colour) for tasks such as camouflage breaking, prey detection, and social communication. However, we still have a remarkably poor understanding of the functional significance of polarisation vision. This project would explore polarisation-sensitive vision in fish, using behavioural tests to determine whether they can detect polarised light, how acute their polarisation vision is, and whether polarised signals can be used in intra-specific communication. For further information please contact Tom Pike at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brain structure and cognition in fish
The evolution of the brain has attracted considerable scientific interest. However, most studies have relied on inter-specific or inter-population comparisons, looking for correlations between brain architecture and fitness-related traits. Much less well understood is the plasticity of the brain within populations, and specifically how variation in brain structure impacts an individual’s behavioural and cognitive abilities, and how (and why) the structure of the brain changes over time. This project would investigate this by non-invasively quantifying temporal variation in the brain structure of individual fish and relating this to their performance in behavioural and cognitive tasks. For further information please contact Tom Pike at email@example.com or Anna Wilkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Understanding the impacts of climate and fire on long-term terrestrial-aquatic ecosystem change
MSc by Research and MPhil/PhD projects are available in palaeoecological research over the Holocene with a particular focus on fire and climate impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in Canadian, Australian and UK environments. Projects range from field, laboratory and desk-based with specialisations in radiometric dating, geochemistry and microfossil analysis such as pollen, charcoal, diatoms, and cladocerans. Depending on the project, additional bench fees may apply. For more information contact Dr Kristen Beck at email@example.com.