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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Mahalia Frank


PhD student



Project title: Adaptive neuroepigenetic reprogramming in response to prenatal signals: studies in the zebra finch, a model songbird

Summary: It has long been hypothesized that the interaction between environment and genetics is crucial to the early development of the vertebrate brain. In zebra finches, adult birds influence the long-term outcomes of a juvenile's development using a variety of methods, in particular utilizing an arsenal of different sounds and calls to convey information. Recently, collaborators in Australia identified a new call, one used while chicks were still in the embryonic stages, that appeared to directly influence the developmental outcome of chicks after they hatch. Specifically, it appears that the incubation call signals temperature and climate conditions to the embryos and causes them to choose warmer nests and produce more eggs in their first breeding season than birds that have not heard this call. My project aims to identify the underlying genetic mechanisms in the developing embryonic brain that are regulated by this particular call, using molecular methods including qPCR, RNAseq and epigenetic transcriptomics. This will help us to develop an understanding of how an external environmental stimulus can produce an acute molecular response that can change the long term developmental outcomes in vertebrates.



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