Thermal effects on cellular ageing

Mechanistic links between telomere length, oxidative stress, temperature and ageing patterns in a reptile model system

Degree type


Closing date

1 July 2023



Citizenship requirement


About the research project

A core goal of evolutionary biology is to explain the remarkable diversity among organisms in patterns of growth, reproduction, senescence and survival. A potential biomarker of these patterns is the length of telomeres – repeat sequences at the end of chromosomes that protect important coding information. With each cell replication during growth and repair or with oxidative damage, telomeres become shorter until they are so short that the cell can no longer divide without errors. The cell becomes inactive or dies, ultimately affecting the whole-organism phenotype.

Telomeres mediate the links between internal and environmental stressors and growth rate, reproductive investment and lifespan. Differential changes in telomere length from development to senescence may regulate energy allocation 'decisions' that result in life history variation within and between populations. Understanding how these cellular processes interact to influence individuals and populations requires study systems that are amenable to sophisticated experimental manipulation and that are grounded in an ecological and evolutionary framework. Ectothermic taxa with strong environmentally driven plasticity in growth and reproduction, and with extreme fluctuations in metabolic rate and oxidative stress, may hold the key to understanding ongoing selection on and evolution of telomere dynamics in the wild.

The candidate will measure the role of local adaptation plays in underpinning temperature-specific telomere dynamics. They will then use this information to predict the short- and long-term thermal effects of telomere erosion at the population level under a range of simulated climate change scenarios. This will involve the use of long-term field data, targeted physiological experiments and the development of protocols to measure cellular processes of ageing in a reptile model system. The outputs from this project will contribute to a large ARC funded project whose global aim is to investigate the complex dynamics of ageing in ectotherms.

Primary Supervisor

Meet A/Prof Erik Wapstra


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $31,500 per annum (2023 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Ensure your eligibility for the scholarship round by referring to our Key Dates.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • Applicants must be able to undertake the project on-campus

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • First class honours degree or equivalent in a relevant field with evidence of strong skills in research

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • We are looking for candidates with an interest in the molecular and physiological underpinnings of evolutionary biology
  • The ideal candidate will have laboratory skills such as DNA extraction, qPCR, oxidative stress assays and metabolic rate measurement as well as experience in animal husbandry or fieldwork (reptile experience a bonus) and data analysis using r or similar software
  • Successful applicants will demonstrate a strong research background in evolutionary biology, molecular biology, physiology or similar fields through a publication record or a high-quality thesis

Application process

  1. Select your project, and check that you meet the eligibility and selection criteria, including citizenship;
  2. Contact A/Prof Erik Wapstra to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. In your application:
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • Submit a signed supervisory support form, a CV including contact details of 2 referees and your project research proposal.
  4. Apply prior to 1 July 2023.

Full details of the application process can be found under the 'How to apply' section of the Research Degrees website.

Following the closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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