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PhD Studentship – Light-mediated switching of circadian pacemaker function across the neural clock circuit of Drosophila

School of Biological Sciences

Location:  Highfield Campus
Closing Date:  Monday 08 July 2019
Reference:  1151419BJ

PhD Supervisor: Dr Herman Wijnen                     co supervisor: Dr Mariana Vargas-Caballero

Interviews will be held at the University of Southampton or online during July 2019

PhD Description: 

Both insects and mammals organise their physiology and behaviour in a coherent daily schedule that is controlled by a conserved internal mechanism for daily timekeeping known as the circadian clock. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster represents an excellent model for the study of the circadian clock and has been instrumental in Nobel prize-winning research elucidating the molecular oscillator mechanisms that keep time at the cellular level. A higher order of regulation exists in the circadian brain circuits that control behavioural rhythms such as the sleep/wake cycle. Different subsets of clock-bearing neurons take responsibility for directing sleep/wake rhythms under light versus dark conditions. This project aims to take advantage of the powerful genetic tools available in Drosophila to elucidate the signalling mechanisms that establish this light-mediated switch in pacemaker function.

Aim: Precisely map the neurons that act as circadian pacemakers in different light environments and identify the neural signalling pathways connecting them to light input and behavioural output.

Skills and Environment:

This project will make use of cutting edge genetic tools to manipulate precisely defined subsets neurons for their clock function and synaptic and peptidergic signalling. This will be further supported by confocal and in vivo imaging approaches. Luciferase reporter activity, fluorescent calcium imaging and electrophysiology will be used to monitor in vivo neuronal activity in cells of interest. The PhD candidate will be trained in a range of techniques including Drosophila culture, behaviour and genetics, use of optogenetic, chemogenetic and thermogenetic tools, in vivo luminescence assays, confocal immunofluorescence imaging, in vivo calcium imaging and electrophysiology. Alongside laboratory skills, the PhD candidate will gain experience in presentation skills, article writing for publication, as well as a number of postgraduate courses offered in Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton.

Applicants should combine interest and enthusiasm for the project and associated research skills with a track record that includes academic study and hands-on research experience in biological sciences. 

The project is funded for 3 years and welcomes applicants from the UK and EU who have or expect to obtain at least an upper second class degree in Biological Sciences or allied subjects. Funding will cover fees and a stipend at current research council rates of £15,009 per annum for 2019/20. Subject to rise for 2020/21.

Due to funding restrictions this position is only open to UK/EU applicants

Applications for an MPhil/PhD in Biological Sciences should be submitted online at:  Please place ‘Herman Wijnen’ in the field for proposed supervisor.

General enquiries should be made to Herman Wijnen at:  Any queries on the application process should be made to

The University of Southampton and the School of Biological Sciences both hold an Athena Swan Silver Award, demonstrating their commitment to provide equal opportunities and to advance the representation of women in STEM/M subjects: science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. Due consideration will be given to applicants who have taken a career break. University benefits include onsite childcare facilities, state-of-the-art on-campus sports, arts and culture facilities, a full programme of events and a range of staff discounts.

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