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Ecological drivers and consequences of lateral gene transfers in plants

  • Full or part time

    Prof J D Scholes
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 08, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lateral gene transfers (LGT) are widespread in prokaryotes, where they allow the spread of adaptations among distinct species. More recently, LGT have also been reported among multicelullar eukaryotes, such as plants. In angiosperms, most known LGT concern either parasites and their hosts or grasses, the ecologically and economically most important group of plants. However, the adaptive impacts of this phenomenon and its prevalence in different species and ecosystems remain to be fully explored.

In this project, we will perform the first joint analysis of grass hosts and their plant parasites (Striga species) to assess the frequency of parasite-host LGT and their adaptive impacts. We will capture multiple species, each represented by multiple, geographically spread samples, and apply comparative genomics coupled with experimental approaches. The main objectives are to 1) assess the frequency of grass-to-parasite and parasite-to-grass LGT and test the hypothesis that shared parasites enable grass-to-grass LGT, 2) determine whether the rate of LGT varies among geographical regions, host species and parasite strains, and 3) quantify the functional impacts of grass-parasite LGT on the short term (changes in phenotype) and the long term (adaptive diversification).

This innovative project represents the first systematic analysis of grass-parasite LGT and will help establish how cross-species genetic exchanges affect the sorting of adaptations among individuals. It will allow the student to apply the latest advances in comparative genomics to address fundamental questions in evolutionary biology with potential subsequent applications. The successful candidate will acquire skills in genome sequencing and analyses, phylogenomic tools, and plant growth and phenotyping. We are looking for a student with an enthusiasm for a mix of experimental and bioinformatic work, interested in combining different approaches to make major contributions to our understanding of plant evolution.

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As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (£15,009 per annum for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.
This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment View Website. ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York, CEH, and NHM.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place in the w/c 10th February 2020.

How good is research at University of Sheffield in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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