Physiological adaptations to temperature extremes in insects

Physiological adaptations to temperature extremes in insects

Applications are invited for a PhD fellowship/scholarship at Graduate School of Natural Sciences, Aarhus University, Denmark, within the Biology programme. The position is available from 1 February 2021 or later.

Physiological adaptations to temperature extremes in insects

Research area and project description:
This call is looking for a highly motivated and talented PhD applicant who is interested in studying physiological adaptations of thermal tolerance in insects. The PhD position is fully financed by the Danish research council (DFF) and will be supervised by Professor Johannes Overgaard at the section for Zoophysiology (Department of Biology).
The research will strive to understand how thermal extremes challenge the ability of insects to maintain physiological homeostasis and how some species have adapted to preserve “normal” cellular/physiological function at high or low temperature. Current studies in the lab focus on osmoregulation, neuromuscular physiology, membrane adaptations and mitochondrial respiration and the PhD project can be tailored to any combination of these topics depending on the qualifications and interests of the specific candidate.
The research will be integrative, covering studies at the level of whole organism, organ, cell and molecule and the studies will typically apply a comparative approach (using various Drosophila species) to understand the evolutionary origin of physiological adaptations.

Project themes:
 Most insects are small, and with limited capacity for physiological thermoregulation their body temperature follows environmental temperature closely. Accordingly, insects are challenged in their ability to maintain physiological homeostasis when faced with thermal fluctuations on daily, seasonal and evolutionary timescales. This challenge is particularly pronounced at extreme high or low temperatures that may compromise energetic, electrical and/or ionic balance. For example, it has become increasingly clear that tolerance to low temperature in insects is closely related to their ability to maintain extracellular ion balance as this sets the foundation for sustained electrophysiological function of the neuromuscular system.
Accordingly, we study adaptations related to the function of osmoregulatory organs (Malpighian tubules and hindgut) at high and low temperature as well as the electrophysiological adaptations that allow for nervous and particularly muscular tissues in insects exposed to high or low temperature.

A prerequisite for all physiological functions is a continuous and matched production of ATP to fuel biological processes such as ion-pumping, protein synthesis and movement. Accordingly, we study energy metabolism and particularly mitochondrial function at high and low temperature in order to understand the macromolecular (protein and membrane lipid) adaptations that allow for sustained mitochondrial function during thermal extremes in heat and cold adapted species.

Most studies in our group use a comparative experimental system of different Drosophila species that cover heat-adapted, tropical, temperate and cold-adapted species and when possible, we use species with sequenced genomes. Accordingly, we study the evolutionary/phylogenetic patterns associated with heat and cold adaptation and we are increasingly interested in using molecular studies to understand the different physiological adaptations we record in the laboratory.

The PhD candidate is ­not expected to cover all these themes, but the candidate should be able to document relevant student activities and qualifications supporting the above mentioned themes. The specific project can therefore be designed to combine the interests and competences of the individual candidate and all potential candidates are strongly encouraged to contact the supervisor, Johannes Overgaard ( for a discussion of their possibilities and prospects prior to the submission of an application.

Facilities: The lab has state-of-the-art facilities and support for maintaining multiple insect species. We have experimental setups to measure physiological characteristics of haemolymph, nervous tissue, skeletal muscle and cardiac function, Malpighian tubule and hindgut, as well as numerous assays to measure whole-animal function in terms of metabolic rate, fitness measurements, survival and thermal tolerance assays. At the cellular and molecular levels, we have good collaborations to integrate metabolomics, lipidomic and transcriptomic studies and have expertise and equipment to measure mitochondrial respiration while controlling temperature and substrate conditions.

Qualifications and specific competences:
Applicants must have a BSc (4+4) or a MSc (5+3) in Biology, Molecular Biology or Molecular Medicine. The preferred candidate will have experiences with animal physiology in general and preferably documented qualifications within one or several of the following themes (Neurobiology, Muscle-physiology, Osmoregulation, Respiration (mitochondrial biology), Molecular biology, Phylogenetic analysis). Good grades and prior experience with experimental work on animals/insects is preferred and applicants must have excellent oral and written communication skills in English. The ideal candidate should be able generate ideas/data independently but most projects will also involve collaborations so the candidate should also be open teamwork nationally and internationally.

Place of employment and place of work:
The place of employment is the Zoophysiology section at the Department of Biology, Building 1131, Aarhus C, Denmark.

Applicants seeking further information are invited to contact:

Professor Johannes Overgaard, e-mail:

Application procedures

Before you apply

Information and attachments:
Please be aware that you must have all relevant appendices, attachments, addresses for referees, etc. ready when you apply, as the entire application must be uploaded to the system in one go.

Documentation of language skills:

The English language requirement at the graduate school is comparable to an “English B level” in the Danish upper secondary school (“gymnasium”).

English language qualifications comparable to an “English B level” are documented by one of the following tests:

  • TOEFL test (internet-based), minimum score: 83. The graduate school does not accept the paper-based test, nor the TOEFL ITP test. Remember to ask the test center to send your test results to Aarhus University in order to enable verification of your test results. Aarhus University’s TOEFL code is 8935.
    Currently, the TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition test (available in selected areas) will also be accepted.
  • IELTS (academic) test, minimum average score: 6.5 points
  • Cambridge English Language Assessment:
    Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency (CPE)
    Cambridge English: Certificate of Advanced English with grade A,B or C (CAE)
    Cambridge English: First Certificate with grade A (FCE)

When to take the test and how to upload the documentation:
The test result must not be more than two years old at the time of application.

The English language test should be taken before applying for admission and uploaded under “language skills documentation” in the online application form.

It is possible to apply for admission before you have taken the test. In this case documentation stating that you have signed up for a test (please state expected submission date) must be uploaded. If the test result is not part of the original application the test result is to be sent to no later than one month after the application deadline.

The following applicants are exempted from documenting their English qualifications/taking a test:

  • Applicants with citizenship from the following countries: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, or one of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway or Sweden).
  • Applicants with a Bachelor’s or Master’s programme completed in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, or the United States. In this case, please upload your Bachelor’s or Master’s diploma under the section ”Language skills documentation”.
  • Applicants with a Bachelor’s or Master’s programme completed at a Danish university for which the requirement was English B level at the time of admission. In this case, please upload your Bachelor’s or Master’s diploma under the section ”Language skills documentation”.

The programme committee may request further information or invite the applicant to attend an interview.

How to apply:

1)      Find the application form:
Go to – Note, the online application system opens on 1 September 2020.
Choose November 2020 Call with deadline 1 November 2020 at noon (11.59 AM CEST).
You will be directed to the call, and must choose the programme “Biology”.

2)      Fill in the following information:

  • Personal information
  • Academic background
  • Admission
  • Financing (if any)
  • Study: In the dropdown menu you must choose the project: “Physiological adaptations to temperature extremes in insects”
  • Source (how you found out about the call)

Next to some of the information fields you will find a number. Click on the number to get further directions on how to fill in the information field/what information is needed.

3)      Application attachments:
Please be aware that you cannot submit the application if one or several of these documents have not been uploaded.

If you wish to upload more than one document under each section, you must scan/merge all documents into one large PDF file and upload this. Please note that we reserve the right to remove scientific papers, large reports, theses and the like. Instead you can indicate a URL where the information is available.

All information in the application must be in English or Danish, preferably English. A certified English translation is required for documents written in languages other than English or one of the Scandinavian languages (i.e. Norwegian, Swedish or Danish) languages.

As a minimum all applications must include (pdf-files only, max. 20 MB, no zip):

  • One reference (template for references)
  • Curriculum vitae,
  • Motivation (max. 1 page)
  • Transcripts, grade point averages (weighted and unweighted), and diploma(s) for both Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. If the original documents are not in English or one of the Scandinavian languages (i.e. Norwegian, Swedish or Danish) then copies of the original documents as well as a certified English translation must be attached.
  • Project description (½-4 pages). This document should describe your ideas and research plans for this specific project. If you wish to, you can indicate an URL where further information can be found. Please note that we reserve the right to remove scientific papers, large reports, theses and the like.
  • Documentation of language skills if required.

After submission of the application, you will receive a confirmation e-mail with an application ID, you should use for reference if needed.

The graduate school reserves the right to verify the authenticity of your educational diploma and transcripts:

  • Request additional information to verify an application.
  • Reject the application if it is proven, or if the University has reasonable belief, that the information provided is false or if the applicant refuses to provide the requested information, whether or not an offer has already been made.
  • For further information on applying, assessment procedures, etc. please see the GSNS Application Guide.

Please note:

  • The programme committee may request further information or invite the applicant to attend an interview.
  • The project will only be initiated if final funding (from the graduate school/the faculty) is secured.

All interested candidates are encouraged to apply, regardless of their personal background.

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