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Evolution Education Trust PhD project: How the chilli got its heat

Project Description

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. For further information about the centre see

Project Overview:

Chilli plants are unique in producing capsaicin compounds, which are responsible for the heat sensation present in chilli peppers. In addition to their culinary use, capsaicinoids are also used in the pharmaceutical industry for pain management; and in nature they have been found to have antimicrobial properties. The biochemical pathway that leads to the production of capsaicin is complex, but most proteins involved in the pathway are also present in many other plants. So how has this pathway evolved to produce this new and unique trait in Chillies?

How new functions evolve in complex organisms is poorly understood. At the biochemical level, it has been suggested that new functions should arise from gene duplications followed by divergence and evolution of new functions. In this project we will explore natural variation in capsaicinoid production within the Capsicum genus to better understand the relationship between variation in sequence and gene expression with the evolution of heat. This project will use genomic and transcriptomic techniques to evaluate sequence and expression variation of the genes involved in the capsaicin biochemical pathway. Comparative analysis of these data will allow testing the role of gene duplications, sequence divergence and expression on the emergence of capsaicinoid production. Time permitting; we will also address the potential role of ecological differentiation in capsaicinoids diversity using microbiological essays.


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


Informal enquiries should be directed to Paula Kover,

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form:

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

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here:

Interviews will take place in Bath on 14 June 2019.

Anticipated start date: 30 September 2019.

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the Evolution Education Trust View Website.

A studentship will provide UK/EU tuition fees, a stipend in line with the UKRI rate (£15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) and a generous budget for research and training as well as funds to support outreach activities for a period of up to 3.5 years.

Note: ONLY UK and EU applicants are eligible for studentship funding. International applicants will not be considered unless they can fully self-fund (fees and living costs).

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.50

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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