PhD Project - EASTBIO: Understanding the mechanisms of photoreception in birds in relation to physiology, behaviour and welfare

Vacancy Reference Number
Closing Date
16 Dec 2021
University of Edinburgh

This project will use state of the art technology to investigate the mechanism by which light exposure during artificial incubation of bird eggs exerts positive effects on chicks post-hatch.

Poultry production is a major component of the agricultural sector in the UK and worldwide. Over 90 million eggs are set for incubation each month in the UK alone. Environmental conditions during incubation are vital for proper development and can have long lasting consequences post-hatch. Reduction of hatch asynchrony and improvement of hatchability represents a key means to improve animal welfare and efficiency.

Light exposure during incubation has emerged as a potential means of improving chick hatchability and hatch synchrony. Our understanding of how light exposure acts during incubation, and how it can be optimized remains limited particularly in relation to post hatch performance. Our recent work has shown that extra-retinal photoreceptors (non-visual opsins) represent a widespread and evolutionarily ancient form of light detection and response that could readily mediate these developmental effects.

The main objective of the project is to test the role of non-visual opsins during incubation in the relation to chick physiology and behaviour including circadian rhythms. By using gene edited neuronal opsin knockout chicken lines the aim is to elucidate whether extra retinal photoreceptors mediate the positive effects of light exposure during incubation.

The project will provide unique insights into the mechanisms by which chicks are able to detect and respond to light cues. This understanding will inform not only commercial egg incubation and improve welfare, but inform a more detailed appreciation of how nocturnal light exposure may impact wild bird populations.

The state of the art project will be supervised by a strong multidisciplinary team with exceptional skills in avian behaviour and physiology, as well as experience with technological advances in novel avian gene-editing. The student will be supported to develop skills in animal behaviour, physiology, welfare, wet lab techniques (immunohistochemistry and qRT-PCR), transcriptomics as well as novel avian gene editing and gaining experience in presenting work. The project will also draw on international collaboration with colleagues in the USA.