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Ecological drivers of the evolution of symbiosis

Project Description

"Symbiosis is common across the tree of life and has played a major role in the evolution of life on earth. Symbiosis is an important source of evolutionary innovation, allowing species to gain new functions and inhabit novel ecological niches, and caused several of the major evolutionary transitions (e.g. the evolution of eukaryotes and plants). Moreover, symbioses are very common in natural communities and underpin the functioning of diverse ecosystems.

Surprisingly, given the importance of symbiosis, we do not yet understand how and why stable symbioses originate and evolve. This project will combine experimental evolution of a tractable microbial symbiosis with cutting-edge omics technologies to understand the ecological conditions that drive the emergence of stable symbiosis. The findings will help to explain one of the biggest unanswered questions in evolutionary biology while also suggesting ways that ecologically important symbioses can survive environmental change.

The PhD will provide training in a wide range of technical and quantitative skills, equipping you for your career in science. The student will gain excellent training in multiple omics technologies (e.g. genomics, proteomics, metabolomics), bioinformatics, eukaryotic microbiology, and experimental design and analysis. The PhD will be based in Sheffield in a newly equipped lab offering state-of-the-art flow cytometry and imaging technologies. The supervisory team combines broad expertise in experimental evolution, ecology, physiology, mathematical modelling, and omics technologies.

The PhD would suit a student with a strong interest in evolutionary biology and enthusiasm for learning how to use new cutting-edge omics technologies and experimental approaches to test fundamental questions in evolutionary biology.

Science Graduate School
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.


Lowe CD, Minter EA, Cameron DD, Brockhurst MA. Shining a light on exploitative host control in a photosynthetic symbiosis. Current Biology. 2016. 26(2):207-211.

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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