Bernice Sepers studied biology at Utrecht University where she received both her BSc and MSc degrees. Within her master she worked on several research projects concerning abnormal behavior of chimpanzees (Stichting AAP), snowmobile trail use by coyotes (Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources) and the effect of epigenetic changes on the behaviour of animals in natural populations (NIOO-KNAW).
In February 2018 she started her PhD project at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). This PhD project focusses on the epigenetics of animal personality, in particular DNA methylation and its influence on exploratory behaviour in great tits (Parus major). She aims to identify genetic and environmental control mechanism underlying genome-wide DNA methylation and possible functional consequences of (candidate) gene methylation for natural variation in great tit personality. She does this under the supervision of Prof. dr. Kees van Oers and Dr. Koen Verhoeven.
Epigenetics of animal personality: DNA methylation and its influence on exploratory behavior in great tits (Parus major)
Animal personality, consistent between-individual variation in suites of behaviours, has a genetic component, associates with fitness and is subjected to selection. Early developmental effects and environmental conditions experienced by parents also affect personality traits, even over multiple generations. Yet, the mechanisms underlying such transgenerational regulation remain unknown, while determining them is crucial to understand how development affects heritable traits in evolutionary processes. A likely mechanism involved in such epigenetic regulation is DNA methylation, since this can stably alter gene expression in response to environmental factors without structural modifications of the DNA sequence. This project proposes to associate DNA methylation to variation in exploratory behaviour in the great tit (Parus major) by combining state-of-the-art genome-wide techniques, a unique long-term wild study population and an existing experimental F2-cross population. Hopefully, this will identify genetic and environmental control mechanism (such as food availability and climate variables), underlying genome-wide DNA methylation and possible functional consequences of (candidate) gene methylation for natural variation in exploratory behavior. Furthermore, DNA methylation will be manipulated during early development in order to determine environmental causes of variation in DNA methylation and to explore its ecological and evolutionary consequences.
This project is supervised by Prof. dr. Kees van Oers and co-supervised by and Dr. Koen Verhoeven.