Context and Goals:
Human activities induce stress for wild life. However, it is hard to clearly distinguish stress sources in natura. In order to establish causality links between stress and potential consequences, experimental laboratory studies are needed. This is the why this project is based on an ecotoxicology lab experiment. We will focus on effects of trace metal elements pollution like lead, cadmium, arsenic and copper. These elements are known to induce adverse effects on human and on wild life health. For example, arsenic and lead are ranked 1st and 2nd in the 2019 report of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR 2019). In previous studies, we tested the hypothesis in which oxidative stress is the main physiological mechanism explaining the deleterious effects of trace metal elements on health (Saulnier et al. 2020). Oxidative stress is the result of an overdrive of antioxidant defenses by oxygen reactive species and which can induce damages on lipids, proteins and DNA. We showed in male birds a link between pollutants exposure and DNA damages. Following this study, we will now work with couples of reproductive birds since some pollutant may have effects on growth only or at specific time of the reproductive cycle (offspring’s germinal cells, hormones levels, egg production). The main aim of this study is to work on male and female birds to look at a sex-biased effect of pollutants and highlight effects on reproduction.
Our lab model is the well-known in ecophysiology and ethology passerine Zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata). We will experimentally expose birds at different pollution levels relevant of urban exposure (low doses pollutant mixtures). Indeed, pollutants are rarely studied as mixtures, however it is important to take into account the cocktail effects (interaction between pollutants) in order to better understand the outcome on health.

The experiment will be carried on 80 adults’ couples (80 males and 80 females) making it 160 birds. Each couple will be placed in their own cage. Birds will be acclimated at experimental conditions during autumn. The experiment should start on January 2024 in order to test effects of pollutants on males and females before their reproduction (2-month exposure). The considered pollutants are metals and metalloids, which will be given to birds through their drinking water as in our previous study (Saulnier et al. 2020). Metals levels will be defined in regards of our previous results. The experiment will then continue throughout the reproduction cycle. The intern student will also take part to the rest of the experiment; however a focus will be given on dosing and analyzing samples from the pre-reproduction experiment for the master’s thesis writing.

Bibliography :
ATSDR. 2019. The ATSDR 2019 substance priority list.
Saulnier, A., J. Bleu, A. Boos, I. El Masoudi, P. Ronot, S. Zahn, M. Del Nero, and S. Massemin. 2020. Consequences of trace metal cocktail exposure in zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) and effect of calcium supplementation. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 193:110357.

Required skills:
– Knowledge and interest into ecophysiology and behavior ecology
– Data analysis and statistics using R
– Experimental design set up
– Rigorous work, redaction and communication skills (knowledge of French would be a bonus but not mandatory)
Internship acquired skills:
– Handling birds
– Laboratory analysis (biochemistry, molecular biology)
– Pollutant handling

Future in the project:
no PhD position but 8-month laboratory engineer position available.

Internship place:
Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien (IPHC), Strasbourg, Alsace, France
Department of EcoPhysiology and Ethology (DEPE), Adaptation of animals and environmental management team (ADAGE)

Josefa Bleu, Strasbourg University Associated Professor, IPHC –DEPE -ADAGE
Sylvie Massemin, Strasbourg University Professor, IPHC –DEPE –ADAGE
Clément Parnet, CNRS PhD Student, IPHC –DEPE -ADAGE


Please provide us 3 your CV, application letter, and first year of master grades and previous internship reports by email. Application will be studied when received.

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