Female reproductive investment and ageing: an evolutionary perspective on osteoporosis (avian model)
Some individuals age faster than others, experience age-related diseases earlier, such as osteoporosis, and ultimately live a shorter life. Understanding the biological basis of individual variation in ageing trajectories remains one of the big challenges for science. Genomic constraints and resource-based trade-off between reproductive investment and healthy ageing probably underlie individual susceptibility to age-related decline. However, these hypotheses remain experimentally untested.
We propose to use a unique avian life history model explicitly created to study the links between reproduction and ageing to address these knowledge gaps. Using an artificial selection approach, Dr Tschirren created replicated genetic lines of quails (Coturnix japonica) that differ in their ageing trajectories. Birds selected for high reproductive investment age quickly, suffer from osteoporosis symptoms and have difficulties to walk later in life, whereas birds selected for low reproductive investment age slowly and live longer. This experimental model is thus ideally suited to test the consequences of reproductive investment for the development of age-related disease such as osteoporosis. Genomes and transcriptomes of these quail will be scrutinized using systems biology methods to unravel the molecular basis of ageing processes, targeting the discovery of genes and pathways that affect reproduction, ageing and the development of osteoporosis.
This project combines the complementary skills and expertise of researchers in veterinary science, evolutionary biology, genomics and systems biology from the University of Queensland, Australia, the University of Exeter, United Kingdom and the Institute of Avian Research, Germany. This is a unique PhD research and training opportunity. In addition to available datasets, the student will conduct animal trials to test the potential of nutritional interventions in buffering genetic susceptibility to osteoporosis.
This cross-disciplinary and synergistic project will provide novel and essential insights into molecular constraints involved in the processes of reproduction that impact on healthy ageing and have broad implications for evolutionary biology, animal breeding and welfare, and human health. Animal breeders are interested in productive animals (i.e. highly fertile egg layers). However, the concern for animal welfare requires understanding of the trade-offs and the development of strategies that prevent diseases, such osteoporosis. The medical field is interested in understanding the genomics of age-related diseases as a step towards promoting healthy aging.