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Comparative genomics, speciation and sustainable food security

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Supervisor: Professor Vincent Savolainen, Imperial College London

CASE partner: National Botanic Garden of Wales

Marc Delorme Coconut Research Station at CNRA, Cote d’Ivoire
KNUST Agricultural Research Station, Ghana

Project summary

Are You interested in tropical field work?
Do you want to become fluent in genomics and analytical skills?
Do you want to contribute to saving the world from starvation, while ensuring ecosystem sustainability?
Do you like evolutionary biology more than particular taxa?
This PhD project might be for you!

Building on our decade-long evolutionary research on Lord Howe Island (LHI), the student will use this emerging model system to disentangle the genomic underpinning of sympatric speciation in plants. Uniquely, we have identified a pair of closely related palm species that have evolved on the minute LHI by adapting to different soil types. One of the species, Howea forsteriana, evolved on calcareous soils deposited by the sea one million years ago, which lead to water, salt and metal stresses whilst affecting flowering phenologies. Thus, the Howea palms of LHI represent an invaluable system to disentangle how species in general, and plants in particular, have evolved to cope with environmental stresses, and how soil chemistry and microbes can drive evolution and adaptation to soil stressors. Because the scenario of speciation in Howea palms involves flowering time displacement in response to adaptation to drought, salt and other soil stressors, and because the genes involved in these mechanisms are expected within specific genomic islands, we propose a comparative genomic approach to disentangle stress tolerance in crop palms (African oil palm, coconut palm). (i) The student will look at the underlying genomics of the species split, and identify genomic islands and loci likely involved in speciation and stress tolerance. (ii) S/he will attempt to validate candidate genes, e.g. attempting to transfer Howea genes across Howea species, and/or into oil palms, the latter having a generation time much more tractable for such functional confirmation experiments. (iii) Finally, the student will apply this knowledge to evaluate whether similar genes are in operation for stress tolerance in crop palms (oil/coconut). This will involve field trials in Africa in partnership with collaborators in Ivory Coast and Ghana CASE partner the National Botanic Gardens of Wales will provide the ideal platform for outreach and public engagement with this research.

NERC Eligibility apply

The project is competitive within Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet Doctoral Training Programme at Imperial College London

Deadline: 6 January 2020 (project will start October 2020)

To apply, please send CV, cover letter and name of 2 referees to

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