Early life environment changes how organisms age.

   Department of Genetics and Genome Biology

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

This project will help understand why organisms age differently by establishing the effect of early life environments on epigenetic ageing in the model insect, Nasonia vitripennis. How individuals and species age so differently is one of the major unanswered questions in evolutionary biology with early life environments being a major predictor of lifespan.

Ageing is a mechanistically complex process influenced by many environmental and genetic com- ponents. The effects of these components influence each other, making them difficult to investigate, especially in complex mammalian models. Therefore, a large body of ageing research is based on simple model invertebrate organisms. Advantages include easy and inexpensive to keep in a laboratory, short life span, genetic and molecular tools available, and a sequenced genome.

However, current invertebrate ageing models (Drosophila and C. elegans) do not possess certain chemical marks (DNA methylation), an important part of how most organisms age. An epigenetic clock is a biochemical test based on measuring the accumulation of this DNA methylation. There is evidence that epigenetic clocks mirror true biological age and its associated morbidity and mortality better than chronological age in many species including us.

The jewel wasp, Nasonia vitripennis, an emerging model, has a functional methylation system, making it an ideal species to investigate the epigenetics of ageing. We have established an epige- netic clock in this species.

Early life effects on ageing have pervasive influence on the ecology and evolution of a range of species from fish to birds to humans. It would be useful to study a dramatic example, where a distinct early life environment lead to a dramatic switch in ageing strategy, a so-called senescence plasticity. An example of this is larval diapause in Nasonia where if the mother experiences autumn-like conditions, her larval offspring become dorminant over winter and then as adults live much longer than adult Nasonia who haven’t overwintered.


This project combines whole genome bisulfite sequencing of Nasonia, machine learning, RNAi knockdowns of methylation enzymes and high-throughput behavioural analysis, to analyse chrono- logical and epigenetic ageing in diapaused and non-diapaused Nasonia.

For details of entry requirements and how to apply please refer to:


Apply at https://le.ac.uk/study/research-degrees/research-subjects/genetics

Biological Sciences (4)


• Horvath, S. DNA methylation age of human tissues and cell types. Genome Biol 14, 3156 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1186/gb-2013-14-10-r115. The original paper that discovered epigenetic clocks in humans.
• Pinho, G.M., Martin, J.G.A., Farrell, C. et al. Hibernation slows epigenetic ageing in yellow-bellied marmots. Nat Ecol Evol 6, 418–426 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-022-01679-1. A paper showing a very clear effect of mammalian hibernation on epigenetic ageing.
• Brink K., Thomas C., Jones A. , Mallon E.B. An epigenetic clock in an insect model system bioRxiv 2023.02.14.528436. https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.02.14.528436. Our preprint with the discovery of an insect epigenetic clock.

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