Fully funded EASTBIO DTP PhD position…

“Single Cells Make Seashells on the Seashore: using scRNAseq to uncover the role of haemocytes in molluscan biomineralization”

Deadline for application = Monday 5th dec 2022
>> Background

How do molluscs build their shells? Shellfish farmers want to grow disease-resistant animals with strong shells, climate change scientists are concerned about the fate of calcifiers in warmer more acidic oceans, and biotechnology industries mine shells for bioactive compounds and material properties. Despite hundreds of years of scientific curiosity, our understanding on the cellular basis of seashell production is incomplete.

In 2004, it was hypothesised that immune cells, called haemocytes, make intracellular calcium crystals and deposit them onto the shell [1]. More recently, methods such as transcriptomics and proteomics revealed haemocytes have a molecular signature that could indicate biomineralisation [2]. But a complete molluscan immune cell development (haematopoiesis) description and functional tests to confirm roles in biomineralisation are still lacking [3].

>> Project

The broad question you will address in this PhD position is: Do immune cells, called haemocytes, participate in mollusc shell secretion? To disentangle the potential role of haemocytes in biomineralization, from their known functions in immunity, you will use a range of cutting-edge techniques, such as single-cell RNA-sequencing, in two mollusc model systems: Crepidula fornicata and Crassostrea gigas. You will interrogate scRNA-seq datasets to uncover the cell lineage and developmental events that give rise to haemocytes before conducting experiments to empirically test their function.

schematic representation of projection question, a haemocyte cell, and arrow and question mark leading to an oyster shell

>> Places

You will be based in the Sleight Lab at the University of Aberdeen, a supportive and dynamic environment where curiosity is encouraged and nurtured. The Sleight Lab is based on the beautiful “Old Aberdeen” campus with fantastically ancient architecture and lots of established green spaces to escape to. In the Sleight Lab you will be part of a passionate team working with world-leading experts whilst having the mountains and ocean on your doorstep. You will also spend time working with your supervisor at the University of Edinburgh and a UK Government Agency, The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS).

Left = photograph of north sea at sun rise, taken in Aberdeen. Right = photograph of kings college buildings on old aberdeen campus

>> Student (you!)

You will be a motivated and genuinely curious student seeking to explore fundamental questions in invertebrate biology with application in avenues as broad as biotechnology and aquaculture.

Essential skills: a strong degree in a relevant field; experience conducting independent research; evidence of advanced skills in data analysis.

Desirable skills: experience with bioinformatic analyses and working in the statistical software environment R; marine invertebrate immunology; molecular biology; immunohistochemistry.

>> Training and Opportunities

You will receive rigorous training in bioinformatics (including cutting-edge scRNA-seq technology), molecular biology and live imaging. In addition, you will be supported to apply for international summer schools and attend international conferences to present your research. You will publish your findings in leading research journals and graduate with a track-record apt for a career in academia, industry or wider fields.

You will have access to University of Aberdeen benefits like our free counselling and student support services, generous annual leave allowance and free membership to our excellent gym and pool facilities.

>> Funding Eligibility and Application Process

Applicants should hold a minimum of a 2:1 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject. Those with a 2:2 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) may be considered, provided they have (or are expected to achieve) a Distinction or Commendation at master’s level.

International students are eligible for this position, international students should click here to access and check the UKRI eligibility guidance.

To apply:
Click here to open the EASTBIO DTP application guidance and forms
-Follow the application guidance, also available by clicking here
-Email your completed EASTBIO application form, along with academic transcripts to Alison Innes at: 
-Your two referees should send their references, using the EASTBIO reference form, to before the application deadline         
-No proposal is required                                                               
-Please ensure you submit all necessary higher education documents                           
-For an informal chat and more information about the position please contact me via email, victoria.sleight [at] please include “EASTBIO PhD project” in the email subject
 Timeline of events after the applications are submitted:
1.) Submission deadline = 5th December
2.) Successful candidates contacted via email to invite to a shortlisting interview = 6th December
3.) Shortlisting interviews conducted during the following times:
  • 7th December 11:00-13:00 (UK time GMT)
  • 8th December 14:30-17:00 (UK time GMT)
4.) Top candidates nominated by PI to EASTBIO to go to formal interview
 >> References

[1.] Mount et al., (2004). Science.
[2.] Schwaner et al., (2022). Front. Immunol.
[3.] Pila et al., (2016). Dev. Comp. Immunol.