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Evolution Education Trust PhD project: Disruptions in gene networks caused by hybridisation


   Department of Life Sciences

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  Dr Leslie Turner  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for this PhD opportunity based at the Milner Centre for Evolution, a unique, cross-faculty research centre bridging biology, health and education. The Centre is dedicated to a broad range of fundamental research questions relating to evolutionary biology; from in deep time to the micro-evolutionary dynamics of a disease outbreak. We have a strong focus on public engagement and outreach. We are located in a dedicated multi-million-pound building that opened on the University campus in September 2018.

Intended Supervisory Team:

Lead Supervisor:

  • Dr Leslie Turner, University of Bath, Department of BIology & Biochemistry, Milner Centre for Evolution

Co-Supervisors:

  • Dr Tiffany Taylor, University of Bath, Department of BIology & Biochemistry, Milner Centre for Evolution
  • Dr Stephanie Diezmann, University of Bristol, School of Cellular and Molecular Medcine
  • Prof Jason Wolf, University of Bath, Department of BIology & Biochemistry, Milner Centre for Evolution

Project Overview:

Hybridisation between closely related species often produces organisms with reduced viability or fertility. Conversely, gene flow between species due to hybridisation (introgression) can sometimes introduce new beneficial alleles and lead to evolutionary novelty. Global climate change is causing shifts in species’ ranges and increased hybridisation between species. Understanding the fitness effects of introgression is important for predicting outcomes of hybridisation, as well as reconstructing past events to address fundamental questions about the speciation process. The main cause of hybrid defects is incompatible interactions between genes (negative epistasis). As a result, there have long been theoretical predictions that speciation can result from change in genetic pathways (e.g., Johnson & Porter 2000), and growing empirical evidence that hybridisation can cause major disruptions in gene networks (e.g., Morgan et al. 2020). However, experiments directly testing theoretical predictions are lacking.

This project will use a novel “experimental introgression” approach to understand and predict how hybridisation affects the function and stability of well-characterised genetic networks in a bacterial system and a fungal system. The aims of the project are to:

  1. Test the effects of ‘introgressing’ alleles from another strain at one or more genes in regulatory pathways controlling flagellar motility in Pseudomonas fluorescens (soil bacterium).
  2. Test the effects of ‘introgressing’ alleles from another strain at one or more genes in the Hsp90 gene interaction network in Candida albicans (human fungal pathogen).
  3. Use mathematical modelling to predict network disruptions from theory and test/modify predictions using experimental data from Aims 1 & 2.

Candidate Requirements:

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree (or the equivalent) in a relevant discipline.  A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.

Enquiries and Applications:

Candidates are encouraged to discuss the project directly with Dr Leslie Turner before applying (email address: [Email Address Removed]).

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biology.

On the application form, quote ‘Evolution Education Trust’ in the Finance section and the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section. If applying for more than one project, quote the projects in order of preference and upload a separate personal statement relevant to each one.

Your application must be complete when you submit it to us. Incomplete applications cannot be considered. Please ensure you have completed all fields on the application form and supplied the contact details of TWO referees willing to provide us with a reference when requested (one must be from your most recent place of study). Also, you should ensure that you have uploaded all the required documents. See our website for more information.

Funding Eligibility:

To be eligible for funding, you must qualify as a Home student. The eligibility criteria for Home fee status are detailed and too complex to be summarised here in full; however, as a general guide, the following applicants will normally qualify subject to meeting residency requirements: UK nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), Irish nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), those with Indefinite Leave to Remain and EU nationals with pre-settled or settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme). This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Additional information may be found on our fee status guidance webpage, on the GOV.UK website and on the UKCISA website.

Exceptional Overseas students (e.g. with a UK Master’s Distinction or international equivalent and relevant research experience), who are interested in this project, should contact the lead supervisor in the first instance to discuss the possibility of applying for supplementary funding.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

We value a diverse research environment and aim to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We welcome and encourage applications from diverse backgrounds and under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.


Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project may be considered for a 3.5-year fully-funded Evolution Education Trust Studentship which will cover tuition fees at the Home rate, a tax-free maintenance allowance at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£15,609 for 2021/22) and a generous budget for research, training and outreach expenses. Eligibility criteria apply – see Funding Eligibility section above.

References

Diezmann S, Michaut M, Shapiro RS, Bader GD, Cowen LE. 2012. Mapping the Hsp90 genetic interaction network in Candida albicans reveals environmental contingency and rewired circuitry. PLoS Genetics 8(3):e1002562.
Johnson NA, Porter AH. 2000. Rapid speciation via parallel, directional selection on regulatory genetic pathways. Journal of Theoretical Biology 205(4):527-42.
Morgan K, Harr B, White MA, Payseur BA, Turner LM. 2020. Disrupted gene networks in subfertile hybrid house mice. Molecular Biology and Evolution 37 (6), 1547-1562.
Taylor TB, Mulley G, McGuffin LJ, Johnson LJ, Brockhurst MA, Arseneault T, Silby MW, Jackson RW. 2015. Evolutionary rewiring of bacterial regulatory networks. Microbial Cell 2(7):256-258.
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