Research Opportunities

We currently have research opportunities available in these projects:

Reproductive Ecology of Clover Root Weevils to Inform New Biocontrol Strategies - PhD Project Opportunity
Reproductive Ecology of Clover Root Weevils to Inform New Biocontrol Strategies - PhD Project Opportunity

We are currently seeking at least one PhD student with interests in genetics, evolution, and behavioural ecology to conduct research into the reproductive ecologyof clover root weevil and its implications for an exciting new pest management method called the Trojan female technique.

Project Description: Maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA can accumulate mutations deleterious to males so long as the mutations are neutral for females - a phenomenon dubbed "Mother's curse". Often these mutations reduce male fertility. Recently it was recognised that this male-fertility-reducing curse could, in theory, be cast upon invasive pests through an approach known as the "Trojan female technique" (TFT). The TFT involves finding male-fertility-reducing mitochondrial mutations, breeding up populations of the female carriers in captivity, then releasing them into the field where their infertile male progeny reduce reproduction of the wild population. The TFT concept has recently been proven in laboratory trials and we are now working towards the world-first field implementation against a New Zealand pasture pest called clover root weevil.
 
The efficacy of the TFT will be partly dependent on the reproductive ecology of clover root weevil: How often does a female mate, and with how many males? How long does she store the sperm for? Which male's sperm does she use to fertilise her eggs? Can she choose? Is sperm from males that carry one or more deleterious mitochondrial mutations equally competitive with sperm of wild-type males? Answers to these and related questions are critical for optimally implementing the TFT against clover root weevil and other similar pests.
 
The project emerges from a new MBIE Smart Ideas grant headed by Dr Craig Philips (AgResearch., Lincoln) in collaboration with Prof Neil Gemmell (Otago), Dr Damian Dowling (Monash University, Australia) and Dr Dan Tomkins (Landcare Research, Dunedin). The PhD position will be based predominantly at AgResearch Lincoln with a requirement to also spend time in the Gemmell laboratory at the University of Otago.
 
The ideal candidate: the ideal candidate will possess experience in molecular genetics, genomics and evolutionary genetics, likely with direct application in addressing questions relating to mating systems and mate choice. Knowledge of entomology, microscopy and molecular genetic approaches and analyses will be a distinct advantage. The sucessful candidate will be motivated and organised, with a demonstrated capacity to master the broad skill set necessary for the successful completion of a research project. They will be a competent laboratory worker, experienced in all routine molecular genetic techniques, and computer literate with familiarity with database management and statistical analyses.
 
Minimum qualifications: B.Sc. (Hons) and/ or M.Sc. in genetics, genomics, molecular biology, behavioural ecology or equivalent with an A average or better.
 
Scholarship funding: Financial support is available for a high achieving student with an A average or better via an AgReasearch stipend, and the candidate may also be eligible for University of Otago scholarships.
 
Eligibility: The AgReserach and University of Otago scholarships are open to all nacionalities. However, overseas candidates for whom English is not a first language must satisfy the English Language Requirements of the University to eligible for study.
 
How to apply: Interested applicants are encouraged to make informal enquiries to professor Neil Gemmell. Please send your Curriculum Vitae, a copy of your academic transcript, a sample of your written scientific work and the names of three referees with a covering letter to:
 
Professor Neil J. Gemmell
e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 

Further information: Gemmell Lab

Applications close on the 28th May and it would be desirable if the successful applicant is able to start by mid 2017.

The Trojan Female Technique – a new Biocontrol Strategy for Invasive Pests (PhD opportunities)
The Trojan Female Technique – a new Biocontrol Strategy for Invasive Pests (PhD opportunities)

Biological control is widely used in the control and eradication of plant and animal species. Among the most common forms of biological control are a group of approaches that aim to control or eradicate population/species by reducing the fertility and reproductive capacity of a population/species. Numerous approaches have been developed for this purpose with varying levels of success. To date the most successful of these approaches has been the Sterile Male Technique, also known as the Sterile Insect Technique. In this approach large quantities of sterile males are released into a population each generation. If released in sufficient numbers these males monopolise matings with females, but because they are sterile no progeny are produced resulting in a reduction in the population size. Repeated cycles of release will ultimately result in population/species numbers being heavily reduced or even eradicated. The main problem with current Sterile Male approaches is that sterile males need to be produced and released very year. The Trojan Female Technique (TFT) uses mitochondrial DNA mutations that affect male, but not female fertility and fitness, circumventing this problem producing continuous, self-sustaining biological control.

Building on preliminary work undertaken using a generic model (Gemmell et al. 2013) we are seeking to explore the utility of the TFT approach using both mathematical and empirical approaches in key NZ pest species, such as the mice, rats, brush tail possum, weevils and wasps.

PhD position - "Mind Controlling Parasites"
PhD position -

Parasites can have profound effects on the animal hosts they invade, manipulating host biology with exquisite precision to enhance host-to-host transmission. One of the most extraordinary of these host manipulations is the water-seeking behaviour that some nematodes and hairworms induce in their hosts so that the worms might exit the host and reproduce. The process is the stuff of sciencefiction; the worm hijacks the host’s central nervous system forcing it to seek water. Once water is found the adult worm emerges, sacrificing the host, so that it might reproduce. This amazing alteration in behaviour is induced by parasitic worms spanning two phyla (Nematoda and Nematomorpha) and is observed in a variety of arthropod hosts, notably crickets, weta, earwigs, and sandhoppers, leading us to hypothesise that a common and conserved mechanism is being utilised by the parasites to induce this behaviour in their hosts. Here we propose to couple field and laboratory studies of two phylogenetically distinct hosts and their parasites, with powerful genomic and bioinformatic comparisons to elucidate the trigger and genetic cascade through which these parasitic puppeteers elicit this highly conserved, yet astonishing behavioural response.

This project has been awarded a Marsden grant, and has scope for one or more PhD positions. For further information, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Postdoctoral Fellow position - "Mind Controlling Parasites"
Postdoctoral Fellow position -

Parasites can have profound effects on the animal hosts they invade, manipulating host biology with exquisite precision to enhance host-to-host transmission. One of the most extraordinary of these host manipulations is the water-seeking behaviour that some nematodes and hairworms induce in their hosts so that the worms might exit the host and reproduce. The process is the stuff of science fiction; the worm hijacks the host’s central nervous system forcing it to seek water. Once water is found the adult worm emerges, sacrificing the host, so that it might reproduce. This amazing alteration in behaviour is induced by parasitic worms spanning two phyla (Nematoda and Nematomorpha) and is observed in a variety of arthropod hosts, notably crickets, weta, earwigs, and sandhoppers, leading us to hypothesise that a common and conserved mechanism is being utilised by the parasites to induce this behaviour in their hosts. Here we propose to couple field and laboratory studies of two phylogenetically distinct hosts and their parasites, with powerful genomic and bioinformatic comparisons to elucidate the trigger and genetic cascade through which these parasitic puppeteers elicit this highly conserved, yet astonishing behavioural response.

This project has been awarded a Marsden grant, and has scope for one postdoctoral fellow position. For the University of Otago job description and how to apply, follow this link.

Any further enquiries about the position, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Investigating the molecular basis of sex change in snapper - BSc (Hons) / Masters project opportunity
Investigating the molecular basis of sex change in snapper - BSc (Hons) / Masters project opportunity

The Australasian snapper (Chrysophrys auratus) is a culturally and commercially important native marine finfish species, which Plant and Food Research has been developing to enhance New Zealand's aquaculture sector industry.

Plant and Food Research recently assembled the snapper genome and transcriptome, generating whole genome re-sequencing and GBS data that can be mined for genomic regions associated with sex. The ability to control sex is one of the most important factors for the commercialisation and efficient propagation of new fish species due to influences on reproduction, growth and product quality. This research project aims at:

i) using whole genome and transcriptome sequence data to investigate the molecular basis for sexual determination in snapper and,
ii) developing markers that can be used to determine sex early in snapper life history.

We are seeking an outstanding student with broad interests in genetics to conduct research into the genetic basis of sex determination in snapper. Some background in statistics or programming would be an advantage, but training will be provided.

The project can be developed as either a BSc (Hons) or an MSc degree. Applications should include a curriculum vitae, academic transcripts, contact details of two academic referees and a cover letter that states why the candidate is interested in the position and how their qualifications and experience make them a good fit for the proposed research. For additional information email Dr. Maren Wellenreuther (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and/or Professor Neil Gemmell (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

 

Interested?

Get in touch! Send us an This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and include:

  • A cover letter.
  • Curriculum Vitae.
  • A copy of your academic transcript.
  • A sample of your written scientific work.
  • Names of three referees

 

  • We look forward to hearing from you!