Netherlands: PhD Position in Genetics of Brain Asymmetry at Max Planck Institute

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Job description

We seek an exceptional student, with a talent and inclination for first class research, to study the genetics of human brain asymmetry. Despite the importance of left-right asymmetrical brain function for much of human cognition, little is known of its genetic and developmental basis. The host research group, led by Dr Clyde Francks, investigates the genetic basis of brain structural and functional asymmetry, and human handedness, using approaches that include genome-wide association scanning in large datasets, whole exome sequencing in families, and methylation analysis. Language is subserved by relatively left-lateralized processes in the brain, and the host research group is embedded within the Language & Genetics Department of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.


Applications should include:
(i)            A statement of interest in the position;
(ii)           a CV;
(iii)          the names, email addresses and contact numbers of at least two referees who would be willing to provide letters of recommendation.

Candidates should have, or shortly expect to obtain, a high quality masters degree in a subject that is related, or can be applied, to human neurogenetics studies. Masters degrees should involve several months of experience and training on a scientific project. Data analysis skills in scripting and handling large datasets will be an advantage.

Conditions of employment

The MPI Nijmegen offers a vibrant research environment in a charming university town. Nijmegen is situated 1.5 hours from Amsterdam, and has easy access to Belgium and Germany.

The PhD position is funded for 3 years. The Language & Genetics department provides fully equipped research facilities, technical support, as well as a conference and travel budget. PhD students in the department participate in the International Max Planck Research School which involves both core and individually chosen coursework to complement the PhD research, and training in soft skills such as writing and presentation.


Max Planck Institute (MPI)

The MPI in Nijmegen is an internationally recognized, leading research institute, with a stimulating environment, excellent facilities and resources. The Language & Genetics Department uses state-of-the-art methods and cutting-edge technologies to trace the connections between genes, neuronal and brain functions, and behavior. Moreover, we benefit from close connections with expert teams in neuroscience and brain imaging at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and in human genetics at the Human Genetics Department of the St Radboud University Medical Centre.


Language and Genetics

Brain and behavioral asymmetries

The left and right sides of the human brain are specialized for different kinds of information processing. Much of our cognition is relatively lateralized to one side or the other, language being a particularly striking example. Asymmetry is a fundamental organizing feature of the human brain, but the underlying molecular mechanisms remain almost completely unknown. In addition, language impairments, schizophrenia and autism are sometimes linked to abnormal brain asymmetry.  In this project, which links with Nijmegen’s BIG programme, we use volumetrics, voxel-based morphometry, and diffusion tensor imaging to measure structural asymmetries in the brain, and carry out genome-wide analyses to identify genetic variants that affect these asymmetries. 

Other work in this area focuses on a gene called LRRTM1, which Dr. Francks has previously linked to handedness and schizophrenia susceptibility. The expression of this gene appears to be different for maternal and paternal chromosomes, which suggests a role for epigenetics – chemical modifications of DNA and its associated proteins in the cell, a level of complexity over and above the variation that exists in DNA sequences themselves. We are currently screening for epigenetic abnormalities at the LRRTM1 gene in psychiatric disease.

Additional information

The Max Planck Society (Germany) is an equal opportunity employer. The business of the institute is conducted in English, and candidates should have excellent written and spoken command of this language.Send applications or enquiries to Mrs M. Bernhard (Secretary, Language & Genetics Department).Applications will be considered on an on-going basis until the position is filled. The starting date is flexible, ideally during the first half of 2014, although an earlier or later start can be discussed.

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