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EASTBIO Uncovering the basis of hair shape variation and evolution

Project Description

Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies / The Roslin Institute

Modern humans have evolved a wide range of hair types since leaving Africa, about 70,000 years ago. The genetic basis for these variations in human appearance, and possible evolutionary reasons for these, are just beginning to be uncovered. In East Asia, and in the first populations that entered the Americas, a single nucleotide change in the EDAR gene, which encodes a signalling receptor, is largely responsible for causing hair to be thick and straight in these regions. This first example explains some of the variation in appearance between peoples, and other relevant genes are being identified, but how these actually work to determine the shape of a hair fibre is not known.

This project will determine how gene activity in similar-looking hair follicles alters their growth to allow them to produce very different types of hair. Informed by new findings in human genetics (Adhikari et al., 2016; Adhikari et al., 2015), the successful candidate will work with cultured skin tissues from a range of mammalian species to assess gene and protein regulation of hair growth, as well as defining the gene expression networks that operate at different parts of the hair’s growth cycle and how these influence stem cell behaviour. This will generate an understanding of the causes of human and animal diversity, and an opportunity to understand how humans have managed to evolve such different hair types in a relatively short span of time during adaption to different environments across the globe.

Training will include use of CRISPR/Cas9 mediated gene editing, organotypic culture methods, histology and skin phenotyping, and modern molecular genetics, together with an opportunity to learn computational modelling, providing the successful candidate with opportunities for an academic career in dermatology, evolution, human genetics, pathology, or developmental biology, or in industry.
The Roslin Institute is an outstanding location for this type of study, being fully equipped for gene editing, animal studies and phenotyping. The institute is part of the University of Edinburgh and is situated just to the south of the city.

All candidates should have or expect to have a minimum of an appropriate upper 2nd class degree. To qualify for full funding students must be UK or EU citizens who have been resident in the UK for 3 years prior to commencement.

Funding Notes

Completed application form along with your supporting documents should be sent to our PGR student team at

Please send the reference request form to two referees. Completed forms for University of Edinburgh, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and the Roslin Institute project should be returned to by the closing date: 5th January 2020.
It is your responsibility to ensure that references are provided by the specified deadline.
Download application and reference forms via:
View Website


Adhikari et al. A genome-wide association scan in admixed Latin Americans identifies loci influencing facial and scalp hair features. Nature Communications. 2016 7:10815.
Adhikari et al. A genome-wide association study identifies multiple loci for variation in human ear morphology. Nature Communications. 2015 6:7500.
Mou et al. Enhanced ectodysplasin-A receptor (EDAR) signaling alters multiple fiber characteristics to produce the East Asian hair form. Human Mutation. 2008 12:1405-11.

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