QBI’s Winter Research Program 2017

Learn new laboratory techniques in a world-class research environment.

Students fascinated and motivated by the potential of a research career in neuroscience are encouraged to apply for the Winter Research Program offered at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI).

QBI will be accepting applications from students with excellent academic achievement and a desire to pursue a future in neuroscience research to spend a minimum of 4 weeks contributing to research projects currently underway in our laboratories. The program will begin on Monday 26 June, 2017 and run through to Friday 21 July, 2017.

Benefits

Undergraduate research at UQ provides a range of benefits, including:

  • Experience to test drive research before embarking on future research studies (eg. Honours) or higher degree research projects (eg. Masters, MPhil or PhD);
  • An opportunity to develop new academic and professional skills to enhance employability;
  • Access to develop links in research networks and connections with other staff and postgraduate students;
  • Supervision by outstanding researchers;
  • Access to world class facilities and experiences; and
  • A scholarship for qualifying students to receive an allowance of AUD$1000, paid jointly by QBI and the UQ Advantage Office.

Eligibility

To be eligible for the UQ Winter Research Program at QBI, students must:

  • Be currently enrolled in an undergraduate, honours or masters by coursework degree at UQ;
  • Have fully completed at least one year of full-time study at the time of application;
  • Be studying for a degree relevant to the research discipline;
  • Have a high level of academic achievement during their undergraduate degree;
  • Have the potential to and an interest in undertaking postgraduate study (masters, MPhil or PhD) and
  • Undertake the research program at QBI, located on the UQ St Lucia campus.

Students may be eligible to participate in the program and receive a scholarship more than once at the discretion of QBI. However, if the number of applicants exceeds available places and funding, preference will be given to first-time applicants.

Selection

Applications will be assessed by QBI and scholarships will be awarded on a competitive basis, taking into account:

  • The availability of projects and supervisors;
  • The academic merit of the applicant;
  • Reasons provided for wanting to participate in the program;
  • The quality of the project;
  • Available funding; and
  • Skills and attributes of applicants to meet project requirements.

Scholarship Support

All applicants will be automatically considered for a Winter Research Scholarship and those who qualify will receive funding of AUD$1000, paid jointly by QBI and the UQ Advantage Office. This Stipend will be paid as one lump sum, based on weekly participation in the program and no part-week payments will be made. Scholars must participate in the program for a minimum of 4 weeks to be eligible to receive a stipend.  No scholars are permitted to participate in the program in a voluntary capacity.

What will be my time commitment and obligations?

Scholars are expected to participate in an ongoing research project or to undertake a substantial piece of supervised research work. Where appropriate to the project, additional discipline-/project-specific obligations may also be required, such as training in research safety and ethics.

At QBI, it is expected that scholars will work on a full-time basis (up to 36 hours per week) during the 4-week program.

How to apply:

Step 1 - Peruse the research projects listed below (when available) and choose one project from the list of available projects.

Step 2 – Check your eligibility.

Step 3 - Read through UQ Winter Research Program information, Guidelines for Scholars document, and Conditions of Participation contained at the UQ Advantage Office website:https://employability.uq.edu.au/winter-research

Step 4 – Email the relevant project contact person to discuss the topic, project duration and workload requirements, and your available commencement and completion dates (attach your detailed academic CV and academic transcripts to your email).  Note:  scholars are strongly encouraged to commence the program on Monday 26 June, 2017 to participate in the compulsory UQ Advantage Office Winter Research Welcome event and QBI student induction activities and requirements organised for that day including OHS training.

Step 5 – Submit an online application via the StudentHub and upload supporting documentation (CV, academic transcripts, supporting statement from a QBI supervisor) by Monday 3 April, 2017.  Please note that applicants can submit one application only, but can specify a second QBI project preference option on the Application Form, if desired.  Late or incomplete applications will not be considered.

All applicants will be notified if they will be invited to participate in the Program by Friday 12 May, 2017.

If you have any questions regarding the 2017 UQ Winter Research Program at QBI, please contact Ms Janet Voight, Research Higher Degree Manager, The Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland, Brisbane Queensland, 4072 Australia, Email: qbistudents@uq.edu.au Phone: +61 7 3346 6401.

QBI Group Leaders participating in 2017 and their available projects:

Available Projects

Project title:

Unveiling the intra- and inter-molecular steps underpinning vesicular priming during neuronal communication​

Project duration:

4 weeks

Description:

Nerve terminals and neurosecretory cells contain synaptic vesicles (SVs) and large dense core vesicles (LDCVs), respectively, that are filled with neurotransmitters and can undergo Ca2+-dependent fusion with the plasma membrane in response to stimulation. However, prior to fusion, these vesicles must be “primed” to become responsive to Ca2+ influx. Despite considerable effort focussed on elucidating the mechanism of vesicular fusion, the way in which these vesicles become fusion-competent upon arrival at the plasma membrane remains elusive. Indeed, the dissection of the molecular steps preceding Ca2+-dependent vesicle fusion has proven difficult to investigate. In the current model, SVs “dock,” in the presynaptic active zone and then undergo a maturation process that renders them fusion-competent, or “primed”. The SV priming reaction is executed by dedicated priming molecules such as Munc18-1, Munc13, Tomosyn and CAPS, which confer both speed and fidelity of synaptic excitation-secretion coupling and are essential for neurotransmitter release. These priming proteins interact with the core fusion machinery the SNARE proteins, which include the vesicular (v-) SNARE Synaptobrevin-2 (also called VAMP2), and the target (t-) SNARE comprising syntaxin 1a (Sx1a) and SNAP-25 located at the plasma membrane. Several lines of evidence indicate that SV priming involves the regulation of SNARE protein conformation2 and partial SNARE complex assembly5. However, the underlying molecular processes are still largely enigmatic. One of the main hindrances to progress has been the static nature of the current models. Priming molecules are inherently cytosolic and must be recruited prior to or during priming at the interface between the plasma membrane and vesicles to confer efficient priming. Super-resolution techniques are gaining momentum and are now opening new avenues for biologists, allowing direct visualisation of molecules in both fixed and living cells for the first time. In the last 5 years, my laboratory has focused on establishing single molecule imaging at The University of Queensland. Using this super-resolution technique, we have been able to track single molecules in their native environment and reveal critical changes in their behaviour associated with key physiological or pathological processes. The goal of this project is to use single molecule imaging to unravel the molecular mechanism that allows neurotransmitter-containing vesicles to acquire the ability to fuse with the plasma membrane, a process called “priming”. Plasma-membrane associated molecules such as Sx1a are organised in nanoclusters which are believed to act as docking sites for vesicles, but there is currently very little knowledge of how these priming molecules are organised in relation to these Sx1a nanoclusters. Our overarching hypothesis is that the intra- and inter-molecular events that take place during priming greatly affect the mobility of these molecules. In this project, we therefore plan to use single molecule imaging in live neurosecretory cells and neurons to assess these mobility changes and uncover the diffusional signature for each priming molecule. In doing so we will build the first comprehensive model of the molecular interactions that lead a recently docked vesicle to become fusion-competent.

Expected outcomes and deliverables:

The student will be trained at super-resolution techniques such as single particle tracking photoactivation localization microscopy (sptPALM), PALM and dSTORM. The student will be expected to acquired data and analyse it using state-of-the-art image analysis softwares.

Suitable for:

This project is open to applications from students with a background in microscopy and/or Physics, 3-4 year students.

Primary Supervisor:

 

Professor Frederic A. Meunier

Further info:

 

Please contact Professor Frederic A. Meunier prior to submitting your application:  f.meunier@uq.edu.au

 

Project title:

Role of Nuclear factor I in cortical development

Project duration:

4 weeks

Description:

In the Brain Development and Disorders laboratory, we are interested in the normal development and wiring of the brain and how defects during development result in disorders, such as congenital brain malformations and brain tumour.

The Nuclear Factor One (Nfi) genes are transcription factors that regulate development of the cerebral cortex. They do this by regulating the switch between proliferation and differentiation in radial progenitor cells. In humans, deficiency of NFI due to mutation or deletion of these genes is associated with severe brain developmental defects, including agenesis of the corpus callosum and macrocephaly. In this project, we will investigate the expression of NFI in various cell types during development and the effect of knockout of NFI on cortical development and wiring.

Expected outcomes and deliverables:

The applicants can expect to gain laboratory experience and actively participate in histology, microscopy and analytical techniques as part of an ongoing research project in the laboratory. Depending on the enthusiasm and commitment of the applicant, this project offers a great opportunity to be trained in advanced concepts of cortical development and transcriptional regulation.

Suitable for:

This project is suitable for year 2-4 students with a background in science and who are looking for an Honours or PhD project. 

Primary Supervisor:

 

Professor Linda Richards

Further info:

 

Prior to submitting an application or for further information, please contact:

Donna Simon at d.simon@uq.edu.au

 

Project title:

Effects of human epilepsy mutations on inhibitory neurotransmission in the brain

Project duration:

6 weeks

Description:

Epilepsy is a devastating neurological condition, affecting 1-3% of the global population and >30% of people with epilepsy do not respond to currently available medications. Generalized epilepsy syndromes are often caused by hereditary mutations to the GABA type-A receptors (GABAARs) that mediate fast neurotransmission throughout the nervous system. The mechanism by which mutations disrupt GABAAR synaptic activity is still unknown. The aim of this project is to examine how epilepsy mutations affect GABAAR function, by looking at parameters such as ligand affinity, channel gating properties, receptor surface expression, mobility and synaptic clustering in order to understand how epilepsy occurs and to identify the most appropriate ways to therapeutically modulate these receptors. We offer two projects.

Project 1 will employ artificial synapses to examine epilepsy-causing GABAARs as they would operate in a real synapse. Using patch-clamp electrophysiology will enable us to determine how the functional properties of the mutant receptors shape the activation and deactivation phases of synaptic currents. If time permits, you will also test the effectiveness of four commonly used and four new drugs with anti-epileptic potential, and quantify their mode of action.

Project 2 will visualize inhibitory synapses at high resolution to extract detailed structural and quantitative information. For this we will use several single molecule imaging approaches to measure surface distribution of receptors and follow their movement. These methods include super-resolution photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM), direct stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy (dSTORM) and single particle tracking PALM (sptPALM). Since neuronal synapses are three dimensional structures, 3D super-resolution imaging will also be performed.

Together these two projects will provide a detailed characterization of the molecular pathogenesis and pharmacological profile of generalized epilepsy, free of the complications of traditional methods. 

Expected outcomes and deliverables:

  • Learn how to culture HEK293 cells.
  • Learn how to transfect HEK293 cells.
  • Learn patch-clamp electrophysiology.
  • Learn how to pharmacologically evaluate the effects of clinically-used drugs on GABAARs.
  • Learn how to use the super-resolution microscopy techniques: PALM, dSTORM and sptPALM.
  • Learn how to analyse super-resolution microscopy data.

Possibility of co-authorship on publications arising from this research.

Suitable for:

This project is open to applications from students with a background in biomedical sciences, pharmacology, biochemistry or biophysics.

Primary Supervisor:

 

Professor Joe Lynch

Further info:

 

Please contact Professor Lynch prior to submitting an application.

j.lynch@uq.edu.au

phone: +617 33466375

The project will be carried out at the Queensland Brain Institute.