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Epigenetic mechanisms underlying responses to environmental stress

Project Description

Animals face challenges of environmental stress from many sources, such as temperature, nutrition, toxins, disease and social interactions. These stresses can be variable and unpredictable, acute or long lasting. Their impact on the individual may reduce future lifespan, reproductive output or ability to fight disease. Alternatively a mild stress may increase resilience to subsequent stress. To combat these stresses individuals can be plastic in their behaviour or physiology, but the mechanisms that underlie these processes are not well understood. The epigenome (marks on the genome that alter gene expression) is environmentally sensitive and so may be a mechanism that allows animals respond to the environment through gene regulation. Changes to the epigenome can be long lasting, so could hold the key to how a current stress alters resilience to future stress.

This project seeks to understand how insects respond to various combinations of stresses. We will use a range of species, both the standard lab model Drosophila fruit flies, and also animals of direct agricultural importance (Indian meal moths, bees, aphids), to find general patterns in responses. We will then manipulate epigenetic marks chemically and genetically, and use sequencing to understand how stress alters the epigenome and gene expression.

Funding Notes

White Rose BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership in Mechanistic Biology
4 year fully-funded programme of integrated research and skills training, starting Oct 2019:
• Research Council Stipend
• UK/EU Tuition Fees
• Conference allowance
• Research Costs

At least a 2:1 honours degree or equivalent. We welcome students with backgrounds in biological, chemical or physical sciences, or mathematical backgrounds with an interest in biological questions.
EU candidates require 3 years of UK residency in order to receive full studentship

Not all projects advertised will be funded; the DTP will appoint a limited number of candidates via a competitive process.

View Website


Leech, Sait and Bretman 2017 Sex-specific effects of social isolation on agein in Drosophila melanogaster. Journal of Insect Physiology, 102, 12-17
Adair and Douglas 2017 Making a microbiome: the many determinants of host-associated microbial community composition. Current Opinion in Microbiology, 35, 23-29.
Vaiserman et al 2017 Gut microbiota: A player in aging and a target for anti-aging intervention. Ageing Research Reviews, 35, 36-45
Montiel-Castro et al 2013 The microbiota-gut-brain axis: neurobehavioral correlates, health and sociality. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 7, 70

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 60.90

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

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