"Wild clocks": New directions for studying circadian biology in the wild

Issued: Thu, 03 Jul 2014 13:41:00 BST

Helm & Dominoni

Powered by molecular tools, circadian research rapidly reveals a key role of biological rhythms in physiology and health, but clock function is poorly understood in its organismic and environmental context. Because clocks integrate multiple rhythmic processes, they need to be finely adjusted to environmental conditions.

To address how genes and environment shape timekeeping, this new project combines frontline molecular tools and field-based approaches in the study of an avian model species in ecology and evolution, the Great Tit (Parus major). This research thrives on the complementarity of expertise and facilities of the University of Glasgow.

The project will lay the foundations for a long-term study system of biological time-keeping across levels of biological organization that will advance our understanding of the ways clocks aid fitness and health. Specifically, we will use recording techniques such as telemetry in the wild to quantify the birds’ daily timing (’chronotype’), and use high-throughput molecular profiling technologies to advance the genotype-phenotype link in chronobiology. The research is based on earlier findings of highly heritable, but nonetheless dynamic circadian clocks.

These findings can now be greatly expanded through the combined assets of the SCENE field station and the cutting-edge tools and expertise for integrated analysis of multi-level ‘omic data at Glasgow Polyomics. With its unique focus and combination of approaches, the proposed research will contribute to understanding circadian clocks in real life, in a world that changes over more rapidly.


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