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How Animals Keep Time Annually: Molecular Mechanisms of The Seasonal Rhythm

Shixuan Liu

In nature, it is common to see seasonal changes in animal morphology and behavior. For example, squirrels and bears hibernate in winter; many birds migrate seasonally; and a wide range of animals from frogs to sheep mate and reproduce only during a fixed breeding season. These seasonal rhythms are adaptations of the animals to seasonally changing environment and are vital for animal survival.
Previous research has long suggested that the seasonal rhythms are controlled by an internal biological clock, but to date the identity of this hypothetical clock still remains unknown. This project aims to identify the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the animal seasonal clock through a highly interdisciplinary collaboration between Stanford University and the French National Museum of Natural History. Using a small seasonal primate, the mouse lemur, as the model organism, we are combining proteomic, metabolic, and single-cell transcriptomic profiling to search for the molecules and cells that show seasonal patterns. This project will generate a comprehensive global signaling network underlying the seasonal rhythm. By comparing with human data, this project may also bring new clues towards season-associated human diseases such as the seasonal affective disorder and the seasonal flu.


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