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University of Portsmouth Featured PhD Programmes
Anglia Ruskin University ARU Featured PhD Programmes

Ecological drivers and consequences of lateral gene transfers in plants

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

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Dr P A Christin , Prof J D Scholes No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

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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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 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.
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