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Ecological and evolutionary interactions in insect symbiont communities

Department of Biology

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Dr J Ferrari No more applications being accepted Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Most organisms host bacterial symbionts, which can substantially affect the biology of their hosts. For example, they can alter the host’s nutrition, reproduction, immunity and protect the host from environmental stresses. These symbionts therefore play a vital role in the way the host interacts with its environment, but also in how the host evolves and adapts to environmental change.
Insects are tractable model systems to study such symbioses since they often host relatively simple symbiont communities consisting of only a handful of species. Thus, many general applicable principles can be relatively easily studied in insects and then applied to more complex microbiomes such as the mammalian gut. Aphid symbionts are particularly well studied. For example, up to seven species of facultative symbionts are found in the pea aphid. These symbionts protect from parasitoid wasps, pathogenic fungi and extreme temperatures, but are sometimes carried at a cost to the host. Within the host, the bacteria interact, and may coexist stably or sometimes outcompete each other. Very little is known about these interactions within the host.
The student will have the opportunity to develop a project on aphid symbiont interactions according to his/her interests. Key questions that might be addressed include which factors affect the composition and dynamics of microbiomes, how the environment shapes symbiont communities, how symbionts affect ecological communities in the field, and there is also the opportunity to investigate the mechanisms underlying these interactions.
Depending on the direction of the project, the student will be trained in a wide range of entomological, genomic and bioinformatics techniques.

Funding Notes

This is a self-funded project. Applicants need to have adequate funds to meet the costs of a self-funded research project including tuition fees and living expenses for the duration of the research programme. Please see information on tuition fee costs, living expenses and funding opportunities.


Applications are welcome for either for a 1-year MSc by Research or for a 3-year PhD.
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