Honours Project Opportunities in Behaviour, Physiology and Ecology

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Dr Murray Thomson

The evolution of the antennae in the isopod Cirolana harfordi

The isopod C. harfordi is a key in intertidal zone scavenger that has a predatory apatite for polychaete worms and dead fish. The animals have evolved a mainly uniramous antenna and antennule but it is not known whether vestigial remains of the second flagella are present as has been shown for other isopods. Neither is it known, whether males have specialized exoskeleton outgrowths (setae) for detecting potential mates, what specialized and complex setae are present for detecting food and how these are connected to the central nervous system. In this project the student will undergo training in specimen preparation and electron microscopy to equip them with the skills for an ultra-structure study on this marine isopod. Animals will be caught using baited traps in intertidal areas in Sydney.

Reference; Thomson M, Robertson K, Pile, A (2009) Microscopic structure of the antennulae and antennae on the deep sea isopod Bathynomus pelor. Journal of Crustacean Biology, 29, 302-316.

The developmental gene HOXA10 and the evolution of live birth in lizards

Dr Murray Thomson with Prof Mike Thompson

How the uterus evolves to allow a blastula to implant is a topic of intense scientific interest. Recent results show that, in mice, the developmental gene HoxA10 plays an important role in regulating uterine receptivity and HoxA10 protein has been found by Western blot in the oviparous Lizard, Lampropholis guichenoti as well as the viviparous lizard Eulamprus tympanum. In this project HoxA10 sequences in a number of oviparous and viviparous lizards will be amplified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequenced. The evolutionary tree of HoxA10 homology may show a major branch that coincides with the evolution of viviparity. A long term goal of the project is to genetically disrupt HoxA10 action to study the effects on uterine implantation. Also possible are immune-histology studies to show the location of HoxA10 in the uterus of various species.

References; Thomson M (2006) HoxA10 and the transition from oviparity to viviparity. Herpetological Monographs 20, 212-218.

Thomson M, Herbert JF, Murphy CR, Thompson MB (2005) HoxA10-like proteins in the reproductive tract of the viviparous lizard Eulamprus tympanum and the oviparous lizard Lampropholis guichenoti. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part B 142, 123-127.

The phase change in locusts and heat shock proteins

Dr Murray Thomson with Prof Stephen Simpson and Ass Prof Greg Sword

Locusts in low density act as solitary animals whereas in high densities show changes in behavior, structure and physiology and become gregarious animals that exhibit swarming behavior. The change in phenotype will necessitate new proteins to be produced in the gregarious animals as compared to the solitarious animals. New proteins need chaperone proteins such as heat shock protein 70 (HSP70) to help them travel to their required destination in the cell and fold into their native structure. Other heat shock proteins such as HSP90 may serve to transmit intracellular messages needed for altering cellular physiology during the phase change. In this project the role of heat shock proteins in the phase change of the Australian locust Chortoicetes terminifera are being investigated. Techniques can include PCR and RT PCR to monitor mRNA production, Western blotting to analyse specific protein production and immuno-histology to study where in the tissues heat shock proteins are being produced.

Custom made projects

You can study your animal of choice, with techniques such as light and electron microscopy, electrophoresis and Western Blot, PCR, behavioural studies, cell culture.