Students will be team members in an NSF-funded multidisciplinary research project: The Genetic Basis, Biosynthetic Pathways and Evolution of Geadephagan Chemical Defense that includes collaborations among researchers at UC, Berkeley; San Diego State University; University of Arizona; and Steven’s Institute of Technology.
The Will Lab, ESPM Department and Essig Museum of Entomology, University of California, Berkeley, is seeking a graduate student interested in working on understanding the function and evolution of defensive chemistry in Adephagan beetles with a preference for students with a master’s degree and a background or strong interest in insect chemical ecology, molecular biology and phylogenetics. This student could start as soon as fall 2016 if he/she makes the 1 Dec 2015 application deadline (http://ourenvironment.berkeley.edu/graduate-programs/admissions/), but if not filled in 2016, this and additional positions may be open in 2017.
The Renner Lab, Evolutionary Biology, San Diego State University, is searching for a graduate student with a background or strong interest in molecular evolution, phylogenetics, and bioinformatics. This student could start as early as fall 2016 if he/she makes the December 14th priority deadline (http://www.bio.sdsu.edu/eb/jdapplications.html), but if not filled in 2016, this position may be open in 2017.
Short project summary (see also this post)
Geadephaga is the largest clade of organisms that use a single homologous gland system to produce no less than 19 distinct classes of chemical compounds for defense. This project will develop a detailed functional and evolutionary understanding of defensive chemistry evolution by focusing on eight species from the four lineages of quinone producing carabid beetles, including four species commonly known as the bombardier beetles, which chemically blast their defensive quinones at extremely hot temperatures (up to 100 °C). Using a multidisciplinary approach, this project will identify and comparatively examine transcriptomes for genes involved in quinone production, elucidate chemical biosynthetic pathways, and describe the genetic architecture of quinone evolution. From gland-specific transcripts candidate genes related to the production of defensive secretions will be identified and gene function will be validated experimentally by blocking gene transcription and looking phenotypic changes in compounds produced and transcription activity in the chemical secretory cells. Biosynthetic pathways of quinones will be confirmed by injection of labeled amino acid precursors and analysis of compounds produced in the beetles’ glands. In order to study the evolutionary history of quinone biosynthesis in carabids we will infer the phylogenetic history of candidate gene families and the tree topology and branch lengths will be analyzed to test whether genes are ancient and shared among taxa, or if gene diversification is recent and specific to certain lineages. We will test the hypothesis that the genes up-regulated in secretory cells during quinone synthesis are closely related to those involved in quinone production in arthropod cuticle. Thus the project will empirically address the well-known, but untested, scenario of how the bombardier beetle evolved its explosive defense abilities. With the bombardier beetle as a model, the project will help develop elementary school level lesson plans on topics in chemical ecology and biological chemical defense evolution that will reinforce the Next Generation Science Standards. Additional outreach materials will be produced including a high-quality children’s book and web-based resources will be produced that target the prevalent misinformation about bombardier beetle evolution found online.