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Evolution Education Trust PhD project: In silico modelling of the evolutionary capacity and constraints of pigment pattern formation in the diverse teleost genus, Danio

   Department of Biology & Biochemistry

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  Prof Robert Kelsh  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/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. Visit our website:

Supervisory Team:

Professor Robert Kelsh, Department of Biology & Biochemistry (lead supervisor),
Dr Kit Yates, Department of Mathematical Sciences.
Professor Matthew Wills, Milner Centre for Evolution, Department of Biology & Biochemistry.
Professor Philip Donoghue, University of Bristol.

Project Overview:

Evolution is popularly believed to be a gradual process typified by slow morphological change, but in fact the rate of change is highly variable and can be very fast. We are interested in investigating the rapid evolution of morphological features. Pigment patterns form a key example of a diverse morphological feature. They are biologically vital yet can differ even amongst sister species. We are developing a biologically-realistic in silico model of pigment stripe formation in zebrafish, that currently successfully simulates wild-type and mutant pigment patterns. Other Danio species show diverse pigment patterns, which we hypothesise derive from evolutionary modification of a conserved pigment pattern formation process. Comprehensive exploration of our in silico model to simulate such changes will allow comparison of the model’s outputs to in vivo patterns. We will identify the likely cellular bases for pattern diversification in these fish. Where the model outputs generate a pattern akin to that of a natural species, the underlying parameter values will indicate which biological aspects of the pattern formation process might be altered in that species. Conversely, where an extant species’ pattern fails to be replicated within the model’s morphospace, that will indicate where extra evolutionary novelty may be being utilised. In both these ways, this project will make important contributions to the understanding of a central problem in pattern formation and its evolution.


Applicants should have an excellent academic record and hold, or expect to obtain, a First Class or high Upper Second Class UK Honours degree (or the equivalent) in a relevant subject. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Enquiries and Applications:

All enquiries should be addressed to Professor Robert Kelsh, [Email Address Removed].

** Candidates are strongly encouraged to discuss projects directly with the lead supervisor before submitting an application.**

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

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 one project, quote the projects in order of preference and upload a separate personal statement relevant to each one.

It is essential that your application is complete when you submit it to us. Incomplete applications cannot be considered. You should ensure that you have completed all fields on the application form and supplied the contact details of TWO referees who are available and willing to provide us with a reference when requested (one must be from your most recent place of study). In addition, you should ensure that you have uploaded the following documents:
• a scanned copy of the certificate/s for any degree/s you have been awarded;
• a scanned copy of your degree transcript/s or your interim transcript if you are still studying;
• an up-to-date CV;
• a personal statement explaining your motivation for wishing to study a PhD and your interest in the specific project for which you are applying;
• English language test certificate (if available) for EU candidates.

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

Interviews will take place in Bath on Friday 3 April 2020.

Anticipated start date: 28 September 2020.

Unfortunately, we are NOT able to consider international applicants for this project.

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project will be considered for a 3.5-year Evolution Education Trust Studentship which will cover UK/EU tuition fees, a tax-free maintenance allowance at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£15,009 for 2019/20) and a generous budget for research, training and outreach expenses.

Note: Only UK and EU applicants are eligible for studentship funding.
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