Collaborative PhD studentship is available in St Andrews!

A great opportunity for a cross-disciplinary studentship has come up in St Andrews! See below:


Further to our work relating skin colour to health and attractiveness we would like to advertise a PhD studentship for applicants with a background in Psychology, Biological Sciences or cognate discipline.

4 year BBSRC Studentship: 2013-2017

Skin Carotenoids and Immune System Function

Supervisor: Professor David Perrett, School of Psychology and Neuroscience

Co-supervisors: Dr Simon Powis, School of Medicine, Professor Kishan Dholakia, School of Physics & Astronomy

Carotenoids are dietary compounds important to healthy ageing. They are used in ornaments of many species with ornament colour being sexually selected and thought to signal immune system competence (1), although the mechanisms are debated. We find that increasing dietary intake of fruit and vegetables raises skin carotenoid levels and enhances human skin appearance (2). Preliminary evidence also indicates that infection lowers skin carotenoid levels. We propose an interdisciplinary studentship project (involving Psychology, Biomedical Sciences and Biophotonics) to measure skin carotenoids and explore their relation with immune function (3). We will measure the relationship of skin carotenoid levels to the frequency of self-reported respiratory infections and the ability of the immune system of participants to produce a range of cytokines. We hypothesise that those individuals with high skin carotenoid levels will report low infection rates, and will demonstrate a cytokine production profile biased to cell-mediated immunity when peripheral blood mononucleocytes are stimulated with non-specific stimulators of immune cells (e.g., bacterial lipopolysaccharide or phytohaemagglutinin mitogen). A further aspect of the work relating the project to physical sciences will be to cross-validate inferences about skin carotenoid levels made from visible light spectrophotometric measurements (450-540nm absorption) with quantitative infrared Raman spectroscopic measurement of skin carotenoids.


1. Vinkler, M., & Albrecht, T. (2010) Carotenoid maintenance handicap and the physiology of carotenoid-based signalisation of health. Naturwissenschaften, 97, 19-28
2. Stephen, I.D., Coetzee, V. & Perrett, D.I. (2010) Carotenoid and melanin pigment coloration affect perceived human health. Evolution & Human Behavior, 32, 216-227.
3. Blount, J.D., Metcalfe, N.B., Birkhead, T.R., & Surai, P.F. (2003) Carotenoid modulation of immune function and sexual attractiveness in zebra finches. Science, 300, 125-127.

To apply click here. Applications should be made to The University of St Andrews Postgraduate Admissions for a PhD in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience.

For informal enquiries contact Dave Perrett

Application deadline 31st January 2012


This research project is one of a number of projects at this institution. It is in competition for funding with one or more of these projects. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding. The funding is only available to UK citizens or those who have been resident in the UK for a period of 3 years or more. Some projects, which are funded by charities or by the universities themselves may have more stringent restrictions.

Applicants who are not UK residents or have not been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible to compete for PhD funding through the School of Psychology and Neuroscience.

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