Role of microRNAs in phenotypic plasticity to environmental change

NERC-funded research by Terry Burke and Vincent Cunliffe (University of Sheffield) and Nick Mundy (University of Cambridge).

A close up of cockerel feathers.
A close up of cockerel feathers.

This research aims to identify the genes controlling feather structure and pigmentation by expression profiling of cDNA arrays during feather development and in chicken plumage mutants.

They will analyse DNA methylation around the identified loci to test for epigenetic control. Many sexual signals (especially plumage in passerine birds) have a "condition-dependent" component, where there is a strong environmental influence on the degree of elaboration. They will therefore examine the role of methylation in passerine orthologues of genes identified in chickens.

The expression of sexually-selected characters is a consequence of gene x environment interactions that can only ultimately be fully understood by dissecting the epigenetic control of those characters in their native environment – in particular, to answer the major question of what keeps the signal "honest"? The novel combination of longitudinal life history studies with epigenomic analysis will allow us to achieve this goal.


Dr Gavin Hinten (2004-2008)

Dr Sarah Follett (2007-2008)

Principal Investigator

Professor Terry Burke



East Anglia

St Andrews


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