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Why do animals lose their hearing?

Primary Supervisor: Dr Ben Warren, Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour

Secondary supervisor: Roberto Feuda

PhD project title: Why do animals lose their hearing?

University of Registration: University of Leicester

Project outline:

Background

This PhD project will use cutting-edge single-cell RNA sequencing, bioinformatics and powerful electrophysiological approaches to understand fundamental aspects of how animals hear and why they lose their hearing. Nearly all biological systems eventually fail either due to age or their overuse. Hearing is a poignant example of this: our hearing ability declines both due to auditory overexposure but also the inevitable consequences of age. Age-related and noise-induced hearing loss are not unique to humans, however, and manifest right across the animal kingdom. In this PhD project you will understand the genetic and physiological changes of hearing loss using complementary big-data bioinformatic analyses and rigorous electrophysiological recordings from the newly established hearing loss model, the desert locust.

Objectives

To answer these timely questions you will use a big data bioinformatics approach to understand the genetics of age-related and noise-induced hearing loss and their interaction. This will be complemented with powerful electrophysiological approaches such as whole-cell patch-clamp and calcium-sensitive fluorescent imaging. Your overall objective will be to understand how age and noise interact to determine the physiology and genetics of hearing loss.

Methodology

The ear of the desert locust has multiple advantages for understanding hearing loss. It is the only model system where individual auditory neurons can be patch-clamped during acoustic stimulation, it ages quickly and can be easily dissected for differential RNA-Sequencing analysis. This PhD will exploit state-of-the-art single cell RNA sequencing, and PALM laser dissection to systematically unravel changes in gene expression due to noise and age in specific parts of the auditory system. You will also be well trained in whole-cell patch-clamp recordings from auditory neurons, hook electrode recordings from the auditory nerve and spike-sorting algorithms. The cutting-edge experiments pioneered in this PhD will serve as a foundation to uncover principles of hearing loss that apply across the animal kingdom, including humans.

BSRC Strategic Research Priority: Understanding the Rules of Life Neuroscience and behaviour. Integrated Understanding of Health: Ageing.

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • Single cell RNA sequencing
  • Bioinformatics and transcriptome analysis
  • Patch-clamp electrophysiology
  • Laser dissection
  • Fluorescent imaging
  • Hook electrode electrophysiology
  • Antibody staining

Contact: Dr Ben Warren, University of Leicester