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PhD student - Belgium  

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Posted on : 28 May 2017

Project Description

The Laboratory of Chemical Analysis, Department of Veterinary Public Health and Food Safety (DI06) aims to recruit a motivated PhD student with analytical interest, skills and/or knowledge to perform dedicated international research related to giant panda reproduction. This research will be performed in collaboration with the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda (CCRCGP), Edinburgh Zoo-RZSS, Edinburgh University and Pairi Daiza.Degree: Master in Veterinary Medicine (preferentially), Biology or equivalent.Successful captive breeding in the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) remains a challenging process. The narrow window of fertility (1-3 days per annual mating season) is usually identified based by monitoring the oestrogen levels in urine. Oestrogen levels start to rise less than two weeks prior to ovulation in conjunction with animal behavioural changes.

After natural mating or artificial insemination, reliable confirmation of successful conception is hampered by the lack of highly specific and sensitive biomarkers. Diagnosis of true pregnancy (with implantation of the embryo) is furthermore compromised by embryonal diapause with delayed implantation and the occurrence of pseudopregnancy, rendering indistinguishable progesterone profiles compared to true pregnancy during primary progesterone rise (probably representing embryonal diapause) and secondary progesterone rise (active luteal phase including implantation and true pregnancy). Additionally, foetal loss is suspected to occur in a substantial fraction of bred, but non-birth females. However, as yet, foetal loss cannot be identified during conventional longitudinal monitoring of the active luteal phase despite exploring multiple single-compound rapid immuno assays, therefore also compromising the follow-up of a successful end-term pregnancy.

To assist in giant panda reproduction with prediction of upcoming oestrus, confirmation of conception, discrimination of pregnancy from pseudopregnancy and longitudinal monitoring of successful end-term pregnancy (and thus identifying potential foetal loss), and to unravel the giant panda’s reproductive physiology (embryonal diapause, delayed implantation, (pseudo)pregnancy), we aim to explore the metabolic urinary and faecal profiles in non-bred, successfully bred and non-successfully bred giant pandas based on an integrated analytical technique applying (un)targeted, multi-compound ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) – high resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS). The analytical results of this study will be correlated with the physiological relevance as well as behavioural observations and managements’ aspects and may be – in future – extrapolated to the population in the wild.

The introduction of (un)targeted metabolomics in the reproductive biology of A. melanoleuca will assure major progress in current knowledge, and will eventually allow better understanding of conditions leading to (non-)conception, pseudopregnancy, foetal loss and full term pregnancy, hereby promoting current conservation programs and optimizing current diagnostic approaches.

Consequently, this research proposal aims to make the bridge between state-of-the-art analytical technology and in situ and ex situ breeding centres for wildlife species, more specifically for the giant panda.

Profile of the candidate

Students graduating in July 2017 are encouraged to apply. No concrete work experience is required, however, candidates should at least show interest in analytical techniques (e.g. UHPLC-HRMS) and research in general.

You need to prove having obtained the minimal degree of ‘distinction’ upon graduation.

Please read further (restricting) guidelines on:

Communicative skills (speaking and written language) in English are mandatory.

How to apply

Send your curriculum vitae, including yearly lists with obtained study credits, and a motivation letter to Jella Wauters (), with prof. dr. Lynn Vanhaecke in cc () before the 1st of July 2017.

Candidates will be invited between the 3rd and 7th of July, with final selection shortly after. The selected candidate will apply for an FWO-SB fellowship (see higher), with project deadline 15th of September (and a project defence between October-December 2017).

In case of successful defence, the candidate will be granted with a four-year research budget (including salary and modest bench fee).

In case of any questions, please contact Jella Wauters ().