A Day in the Life of a Daphnia Researcher
Please see the publications page to read up on how host-parasite coevolution generates biological diversity. Our more recent direction is focussed on epigenetic modification and ageing:
1) Maternal and epigenetic effects on health
The condition of mothers, as determined by the environment in which they live, has strong effects on offspring development, birth weight, infection, and ageing. A familiar example of such ‘maternal effects’ in humans is the low birth weight and greater tendency towards cardiovascular disease and diabetes later in life in offspring born to mothers who were gestating during famine. In many cases, it may be that mothers directly transmit information that will improve their offspring’s survival. These are called adaptive maternal effects, and a key mechanism by which information is passed from mothers to offspring is epigenetic inheritance. This is when DNA, which encodes the information required to build an individual, is modified by the mother before it is packaged into eggs. Epigenetic modifications do not affect the sequence of the DNA, but rather represent tags on the DNA that can be removed. Thus, each generation of mothers can choose new epigenetic features to transmit. Surprisingly, we do not yet know how important epigenetic factors are for adaptive maternal effects, and thus we have little appreciation of their role in the health and resilience of populations. Thus, we are examining the maternal transfer of methylation, small RNAs and histone modifications.
2) Caloric Restriction and Ageing
Dietary restriction (DR) has been shown to extend longevity in a wide range of organisms. One plausible adaptive explanation for this pattern is that when food availability is low, the prospects for offspring are poor, and so organisms delay reproduction until conditions improve. With delayed reproduction, resources are shifted to somatic maintenance, thereby increasing the chance of an individual surviving the period of famine.
We study the consequences of dietary restriction for ageing, reproduction and immunity. We also extend this work on DR and longevity by restricting diet in the maternal generation of the experimental animals.
The following video is a little out of date, but still awesome:
Little Lab Research in 1 Minute