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B303: Evolution of red carotenoid coloration in birds (Lead Supervisor: Nick Mundy, Zoology)

Supervisor: Nick Mundy (Zoology)

Importance of the area of research:

The project is important for understanding both mechanisms of sexual selection and the generation of biodiversity. The identification of a gene involved in a prominent sexually-selected trait offers novel insights into the mechanisms of signal honesty.

Project summary:

The project builds on our recent discovery of a gene (CYP2J19) underlying bright red carotenoid coloration in songbirds. CYP2J19 is required to convert dietary yellow carotenoids into red carotenoids. The project will investigate whether the same genetic mechanism is responsible for red coloration in other avian groups. It will also investigate why birds differ in the site of conversion of dietary carotenoids. The main groups of birds to be studied are seed-eating passerines, woodpeckers and gamebirds.

What the student will do:

The main data collection in the project will involve labwork to investigate the number of copies of the CYP2J19 locus and the pattern of gene expression of CYP2J19 in different avian groups. A major objective is to determine whether there is an adaptive basis to the site of action of CYP2J19, which occurs in the liver in some birds, and the actual site of red pigment deposition in other birds. Some fieldwork to collect samples will be possible.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Mundy, N. I. et al. (2016) Red carotenoid coloration in the zebra finch is controlled by a cytochrome P450 gene cluster. Current Biology 26, 1435-1440.

Twyman, H., Valenzuela, N., Literman, R., Andersson, S. and N. I. Mundy (2016) Seeing red to being red: conserved genetic mechanism for red cone oil droplets and co-option for red coloration in birds and turtles. Proc. Roy Soc. B283, 20161208.


Follow this link to find out about applying for this project.

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