PhD project - EASTBIO Prenatal influences on brain health and function

Vacancy Reference Number
Closing Date
16 Dec 2021
UKRI stipend
School of Psychology and Neuroscience University of St Andrews St Mary's Quad South Street St Andrews KY16 9JP
4 years
The prenatal environment has a profound effect on the development of the brain. Maternal stress levels, nutrition, and inflammation all can cause changes in the foetal brain, affecting the proliferation, migration, and wiring of neurons. However, the environment can also be used as a rich source of information on what to expect from the postnatal world. Animals tune their physiology and behaviour early on to adjust to the prevailing conditions. This ‘developmental programming’ is widespread, having been found in insects, arachnids, and many vertebrates. How the early adaptations take place in the brain that change behaviour is still poorly understood. An important factor that has held back researchers is the fact that it is difficult to measure how the environment affects the activity within the brain, and how this relates to postnatal behaviour. In this project, you will bridge this gap by looking at the ways in which the brain of the developing zebrafish is affected by factors that can inform the animal on environmental quality. This animal is ideal to address this question; its transparency in its early stages means we can record the activity of the brain as it perceives its environment and relate it to the behaviour of the animal after it hatches. You will use a combination of brain imaging with cutting-edge microscopes, pharmacology, molecular biology, and deep learning-assisted behavioural experiments to probe the brain’s adaptive strategies to the environment. You will be supervised by Dr Maarten Zwart ( and Prof Karen Spencer (, and will join their research teams at the School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, who are working to understand how the brain, its physiology and behaviour are connected.

Further Information


Application instructions can be found on the EASTBIO website-

1) Download and complete the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion survey.

2) Download and complete the EASTBIO Application Form.

3) Submit an application to St Andrews University through the Online Application Portal

Your online application must include the following documents:

- Completed EASTBIO application form

- 2 References (to be completed on the EASTBIO Reference Form, also found on the EASTBIO website)

- Academic Qualifications

- English Language Qualification (if applicable)

Contact Details

Queries on the project can be directed to the project supervisor.

Queries on the application process can be directed to Helen Sunderland at

Please refer to UKRI website and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions