Researching the genetic diversity of reef fish on the Great Barrier Reef, and cognitive ability in both young and aged animals has won two German researchers Endeavour Research Fellowships to visit QBI.

Dr Sara Stieb will spend six months in Professor Justin Marshall’s Sensory Neurobiology Group studying the molecular basis of visual diversity in areas such as visual pigments of fish and photic properties of habitats.

“The Great Barrier Reef has unique biodiversity-rich ecosystems, with coral reefs being the most colourful in the world,” Dr Stieb said.

“Comparing the visual system between cichlids and reef fish will contribute to answering a fundamental question in biology: identifying the mechanisms underlying the origin of species and external factors and environmental conditions that promote diversification.”

Dr Stieb will visit Lake Tanganyika in Africa to study freshwater cichlids, and will use her Australian stay to compare their visual systems with reef fish, hoping to reveal convergent patterns in colouration and visual sensitivities.

“Both freshwater cichlid and marine reef fish species represent spectacular products of diversification,” she said.

The project is part of a bigger study Dr Stieb has performed at the University of Basel, Switzerland, since 2012 in collaboration with QBI.

Also at QBI on an Endeavour Research Fellowship, is Odette Leiter, working alongside Dr Daniel Blackmore in Professor Perry Bartlett’s laboratory.

During her six-month stay Miss Leiter will study the role of exercise in neurogenesis and cognitive ability in both young and aged animals.

“Using active place avoidance testing we will measure cognitive function in young and aged animals following an acute period of exercise,” she said.

“We are hoping to find an increased ability to learn in young and aged mice after acute periods of exercise.”

This research forms an important part of QBI’s work to understand the complex underlying mechanisms of adult neurogenesis – a major step towards unravelling this largely unknown area of research.