PhD candidate 'Adapting the wires'

Updated: about 2 months ago
Job Type: Temporary
Deadline: 01 May 2021

An enthusiastic PhD - candidate keen to connect neuroscience and insect ecology by studying the brain activity and behavior of herbivorous caterpillars and butterfly pollinators.

Insect metamorphosis represents one of the most extreme cases of neuronal remodelling, allowing the same individual to occupy vastly different ecological niches at different points in its life. As a caterpillar most lepidopterans feed on the leaves of their host plant, potentially threatening its survival. However, in their adult form many butterflies and moths are important pollinators, which help to ensure plant reproduction. In some cases, the caterpillars even attack the plant that is later pollinated by the very same adult insect. Currently, it is unclear how these two different types of insect-plant interactions are connected and whether experiences made by the leaf-feeding caterpillar will influence the behaviour of the adult pollinator.

Olfactory information is crucial to nearly all aspects of insect life. In the brain, projection neurons play an important role in encoding relevant olfactory signals, such as volatiles emitted by the green leaves of a host plant or a nectar-rich flower. Interestingly, projection neurons in the caterpillar brain have been suggested to survive metamorphosis and might therefore, be able to retain experiences from the caterpillar to the adult stage of the insect.

In this PhD-project we will use intracellular recordings in combination with bio-assays to follow the development individual projection neurons in response to different biotic and abiotic stimuli. Finally, we will use a molecular approach to determine the mechanisms underlying these changes in the neuronal development.

Together these approaches will allow us to address the question of how the insect nervous system is able to adapt between two vastly different lifestyles within one animal, while also conserving important experiences between the different life stages.

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