Research Internship

Population Genetics of Human Communication

Functional characterisations of genetic variance structures:
A gene-set study of genetic associations between social, motor and language abilities

The Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, the Netherlands is offering an internship position in the Population Genetics of Human Communication research group . The host research group, led by Dr. Beate St Pourcain, investigates the genetic basis of social communication, language and interaction in large population-based cohorts and is embedded within the Language & Genetics Department at the MPI.

This research internship is open to MSc students who would like to gain experience in analysing "big data" from population-based cohorts.

Genetic influences on gene expression in brain during fetal and early infant development may impact on many complex postnatal abilities and behaviours, including language, social and motor abilities. In this project you will define gene sets underlying the developmental transcriptome and use them to functionally characterise known genetic associations between childhood language, social and motor abilities.

You will identify known gene sets for expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) in the developing human brain2,3, based on data sets from Brainspan (, as well as published gene expression networks1 for Autism Spectrum Disorder, an early-onset neurodevelopmental condition. If required, eQTL enrichment analyses will be refined using the Garfield software4. Using LD tagging, identified variants will be translated into genetic relationship matrices and SNP sets for follow-up analyses, including those used for functional SNP-h2 annotations from genome-wide association summary statistics5.

To do this, you will use state-of the-art statistical genetic analysis methods. You will also learn how to work within a linux environment and gain experience with coding in R and bash.

The internship will last at least 5 months, the starting date is negotiable. Note that the MPI is unable to remunerate any work carried out during this internship. Applicants should be enrolled within a master programme such as Cognitive Neuroscience, Medical Biology, Biomedical Sciences, Computing Science, Statistics or similar. Good knowledge about genetics and/or programming expertise and a good knowledge of English are a requirement. For further information please contact Dr. Beate St Pourcain (beate.stpourcain [at] To apply, please send a motivation letter (max. 1 page) along with a CV and contact details to Martina Bernhard (Martina.Bernhard [at] Applications will be reviewed until the position is filled. 

Relevant literature:

  1. Parikshak, N. N. et al. Integrative Functional Genomic Analyses Implicate Specific Molecular Pathways and Circuits in Autism. Cell 155, 1008–1021 (2013).
  2. O’Brien, D. T. An Evolutionary Model of the Environmental Conditions that Shape the Development of Prosociality. Evol Psychol 12, 147470491401200200 (2014).
  3. O’Brien, H. E. et al. Expression quantitative trait loci in the developing human brain and their enrichment in neuropsychiatric disorders. Genome Biol 19, (2018).
  4. Iotchkova, V. et al. GARFIELD classifies disease-relevant genomic features through integration of functional annotations with association signals. Nat Genet 51, 343–353 (2019).
  5. Finucane, H. K. et al. Partitioning heritability by functional annotation using genome-wide association summary statistics. Nat Genet 47, 1228–1235 (2015).

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