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Evolution Education Trust PhD project: Selection and the impact of molecular variation on fitness

   Department of Life Sciences

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  Dr Paula Kover  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 Paula X Kover, Department of Biology & Biochemistry, Milner Centre for Evolution


Project Overview:

Understanding the molecular basis of evolutionary changes in phenotypes is central to evolutionary biology and has applications in agriculture and disease management. Evolutionary change occurs through changes in DNA sequences through time. Natural Selection favour mutations that increase an organism’s fitness (positive selection), or purge mutations that reduce fitness (negative selection). Genes with a molecular signature compatible with positive selection are commonly labelled as “adaptive”, implying that these genes have an impact on fitness. However, a connection between genotype, phenotype and fitness must be demonstrated empirically for this assumption to be validated. Despite DNA sequences becoming much more abundant in the last 10 years, unbiased empirical validation of positive signatures of selection remain rare.

We have recently used different methods to identify signatures of positive selection in the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, and found a few genes for which all methods agree there is evidence of positive selection. Interestingly, little is known about their function, or how the natural molecular variation at these genes affect plant’s fitness. The goal of this project is to validate the adaptive value of a subset of these genes identified to have a signature of selection by:

  1. Characterizing their function using molecular biology approaches (gene expression and co-expression networks);
  2. Investigating the evolutionary changes in function using phylogenetics and computational mutagenesis approaches;
  3. Determining the impact of these genes on plant’s fitness under different environments.

This project will provide training for a diverse set of skills, including molecular biology, bioinformatics and large dataset management experience.  

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 Paula Kover 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.
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