Dr Zhou Wu

Research fellow



Project: Understanding the resilience of wild birds to climate change: seasonal genomics of the annual migratory breeding cycle

Supervisors: Prof. Simone Meddle and Dr. Jacqueline Smith


Thesis: Small chicken, big story: Detection of the genetic background of dwarfism in chicken using genomic analyses (Feb. 23rd 2021)

Promotor and co-promotor: Prof. Martien Groenen and Dr. Richard Crooijmans


Thesis: Genetic Basis of Feathering Traits and Related Research in Production Performance in Chicken

Promotor and co-promotor: Prof. Changxin Wu and Junying Li


Thesis: Using molecular markers of early- and late-feathering trait to identify genders at hatch in Shubeixiaocao chicken


Research summary

My postdoctoral project examines the resilience of wild birds to climate change, where I study their genomics and genetics using transcriptomic/epigenetic approaches to understand seasonality.

My Ph.D. project focuses on functional genomics in chicken, including the genotype-phenotype mapping, population genetics of human-mediated introgression, comparative genomics, and transcriptomics.

Experience in whole-genome sequence data, RNA-seq data, and genome editing techniques (CRISPR-Cas9 in zebrafish).

My passion and interest are growing in bioinformatics to develop computational tools; understanding the function of the genome, and using genomics to study the demography and evolution of populations.

Current research interests

The potentially devastating effects of climate change have recently been officially recognized as a global emergency. (1)To understand how climate change influences the biological systems of wild birds, I am interested in the molecular pathways that regulate behaviour, stress-response and potential to survive using a genomics-based approach on different tissues. We have at our disposal, a unique set of samples collected from wild birds breeding in Alaska, representing different tissues under exposure to different environmental conditions, across several life history stages. I generate RNA-seq data from Arctic-breeding Lapland Longspurs (Calcarius laponnicus) to examine which genes show expression changes in tissues. Understanding how wild birds adapt to a changing climate through fluctuations in gene expression, behaviour, reproductive potential and environmental adaptability will determine the impact of global environmental change on these species. Such findings will provide the foundations to develop resilience strategies to mitigate potentially devastating effects in all life on earth including those of global agricultural importance. (2) Understanding the resilience of wild birds to climate change: by looking at seasonal genomics of the annual migratory breeding cycle. The objectives of this project is to study the two closely related subspecies of White-crowned sparrow(WCS) and to investigate the biology of seasonality. WCS is a species of passerine bird native to North America, and the two subspecies studied are the Gambel's (GWCS) and the Nuttall's (NWCS). Because of different breeding behaviour, with or without migration, I am interested to investigate the biology of seasonality by comparing different life history strategies of two subspecies. It is of our aim to focus on the expressional changes of different tissues across the annual cycle.

Past research interests

Body size of animals is a trait that has received a lot of interest and emphasis during domestication and breeding. The wide variation in size of domesticated animals is reflected in their genomes. An extreme size variation is dwarfism, a condition of unusually reduced growth caused by a variety of genetic components. In chicken, dwarfism is a complex trait studied and utilized for a long time. Because of the reduced body size, incorporating the dwarf trait into the breeding scheme can provide potential advantages and benefits. In my PhD project, I focus on two types of dwarfism and analyze the genetic background of these dwarf phenotypes with respect to underlying genetic variants, gene expression, and population genomics. More specifically, I perform fine-mapping to detect the causative genetic variant underlying the autosomal dwarfism (adw) in chickens. Results demonstrate that a novel nonsense mutation in the TMEM263 gene is associated with the adw phenotype resulting in the premature termination of the open reading frame, and a truncation of the transmembrane protein. Moreover, I study the genetic basis of the bantam phenotype in Dutch traditional chicken breeds by using a variety of genomic analyses. Genome mapping and differential gene expression analysis identify novel candidate genes responsible for the bantam phenotype. The results further demonstrate the heterogeneity of this trait and the signaling pathways involved in growth. Furthermore, I am also interested in the admixed population structure of Dutch chicken breeds and show how human-mediated crossbreeding may influence the genomic landscape of a population in a complex manner. Collectively, I provide , in my PhD study, a comprehensive understanding of the genetic background of dwarf phenotypes in chicken, which not only can be utilized in poultry breeding but also provides a case study of utilizing multi-omics data to study the phenotype-genotype relation.