Spotlight on Research!

There’s so much going on around the campus, and as we all squirrel away on our research, it can be easy to lose sight of what other people are up to. So to keep connected with what other researchers are doing, we’re starting a new blog feature called ‘Spotlight on Research’!

Name: Jay Culligan
Year: 2nd
 Department: School of Life Sciences
Thesis title: A quantitative and qualitative analysis of Sepia officinalis (the common cuttlefish) patterning and camouflage
When I’m not writing my thesis I: take care of my cuttlefish down at the Sea Life Centre in Brighton, and I take care of the zebra fish on campus. With the little free time I find, I spend it with friends and other researchers and make time for the gym and a good long run. As an American, my travel through Europe hasn’t been too extensive, but I’m taking advantage of England and seeing as much of the world as I can.

My PhD is about: My research focuses on the remarkable colour changing capabilities of cuttlefish species. They’re amazing creatures. With their skin connected to their brain, they are capable of changing their whole body colour in less than a second. This is faster and can produce more patterns than the chameleon!
This capability becomes even more fascinating when you consider that cuttlefish possess a visual system similar to vertebrates. Cuttlefish are mollusks, making them more closely related to a clam than humans. Studying this similar visual system opens up interesting questions about how evolution crafted such a similar visual system in a species so alien to our own. They have blue blood and three hearts, so they’re as alien a species as you can get to humans!
So what do I do exactly? Well, I take pretty pictures of cuttlefish and do some statistics on the images. What I do with those statistics is the cool part. Research over the past few decades has shown how altering environments can produce a range of patterns. I am investigating the full pattern capability. What is their full pattern repertoire? What can they produce that we haven’t seen yet?

Finding new ways to manipulate their environment not only helps me understand how their patterning system works, but answers unique questions about their visual system capabilities and how well they camouflage to a large diversity of environments. Vision and camouflage research is great and has wider application than the military. We can answer questions on evolutionary pressures to visual systems, hypothesise how evolution has shaped animals body patterns based on the visual capabilities of their predators and prey, and how the cells and neural systems can encode the large amount of information from our environment through the eyes.
 
I’m lucky to work with these animals and I can convince you they’re the coolest things on the planet over a pint any day!

Would you like to share your research with our wide readership in a ‘Spotlight on Research’ post?
Just email a profile in the same structure as the one above to researchhive@sussex.ac.uk. The description of your PhD should be in a conversational style that is easy to understand for non-experts, and the whole thing should be under 500 words.
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