University of Warwick
Sensing and transmission of environmental signals across generations
Dr Andre Pires da Silva
Phenotypic plasticity allows the expression of a range of phenotypes (set of quantifiable traits) under different environmental conditions within an individual’s lifetime. The genotype (genetic make-up) of the individual therefore remains constant, but the interaction of that genotype with the environment results in altered respective phenotypes. There is increasing evidence that this phenotypic plasticity can in fact occur across generations as well as within them. However, the mechanisms of this transmission of information from the parent to the progeny is poorly understood and appears to contradict the dogma that the flow of information always occurs in the direction of the germline to the soma. My PhD project will use a model organism that is well-suited to studying this apparent soma to germline information transmission – Auanema freiburgensis. A. freiburgensis is a nematode worm which gives rise to stress-resistant progeny when the parental generation experiences a chemical cue in the environment (an overcrowding signal produced by other worms). Using molecular biological and bioinformatics techniques, I hope to help characterise the relationship of the signal transmission at the genetic level.
What inspires you
As a child I always loved being outdoors as I kept horses, and always loved seeing and hearing the wildlife when I was out riding and walking, which started my interest in biological diveristy. I became fascinated by the process of evolution from the first time I learnt about Charles Darwin at school and chose to do my year 6 history project on his life and discoveries, which I found incredibly exciting. The more I have learnt about evolution ever since that time, the more captivated I have become, particularly with its study at the molecular level.
I have a BSc in Zoology, an MSc in Evolutionary Genetics and Genomics, and also an MSc in Scientific, Technical and Medical Translation with Translation Technology (French to English). I spent some time after my qualifications having two wonderful children and working as a part-time translator but I am very excited to now be in a position to be able to undertake doctoral research.
Why did you choose doctoral research?
I believe the only way to do what I’m truly passionate about (to keep on finding out ever more about evolution!) is to be a research scientist. I feel driven to contribute to our absolutely necessary understanding of the living world and the evolutionary processes that are affected by rapidly changing environments.
Why did you choose CENTA?
The range of topics available for study with a CENTA studentship is very impressive, which meant I was able to find my ideal project. There are also excellent training opportunities and placements which form part of the studentship contract, which will give me a broad range of skills to implement during my doctorate and in my future career. The fact that there are such strong links between the universities that make up CENTA, due to the training requirements, is also a very positive factor since there will be many opportunities to get to know students and researchers from these universities, which is great on both a personal and professional level.
The training provided will ensure that I am well-equipped to further my research career in the future, since the skills I will gain, e.g. in computational biology, public engagement and much more, are those which will be highly valued by employers and when applying for research grants. Once I have completed my PhD, a post-doc position would be ideal.