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Evolution Education Trust PhD project: Sperm competition dynamics and speciation in mice

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. Visit our website:

Project Overview:

Male hybrids between house mouse subspecies often show reduced fertility, a common type of reproductive barrier between incipient species. Reduced fertility is usually inferred from testis/sperm phenotypes rather than measured directly. Defects in natural hybrids are typically milder than phenotypes in sterile hybrids from lab crosses, suggesting subfertility is common in nature. Moreover, multiple mating of female house mice is common in nature, indicating sperm competition is an important component of reproductive success. The role of sperm competition dynamics in reproductive isolation has yet to be investigated.

Determining the fitness costs of hybrid defects is important for understanding the evolution and maintenance of species barriers. Comparing the reproductive performance of hybrids to pure subspecies males in non-competitive and competitive contexts will reveal the relative importance of sperm quantity, quality, and competitive ability. Directly linking hybrid defect phenotypes to fitness in natural populations is challenging due to genetic variability among individuals and context dependence. To overcome this challenge, we use a unique set of inbred strains bred from wild-caught hybrid zone mice. Leveraging the power of inbred strains, we can measure sperm and reproductive performance phenotypes in multiple individuals with nearly identical wild-derived genomes.

To characterize sperm competition dynamics and effects of hybrid incompatibilities on fitness, the student selected for this project will (1) perform in vitro and in vivo fertilisation assays, in non-competitive and competitive contexts, (2) measure sperm morphology and motility, and (3) functionally evaluate candidate sperm defect genes previously identified in the Turner lab.

More information about the research of Dr Turner may be found here:


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 Dr Leslie Turner, .

** 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.


Britton-Davidian J., Fel-Clair F., Lopez J., Alibert P., Boursot P., 2005 Postzygotic isolation between the two European subspecies of the house mouse: estimates from fertility patterns in wild and laboratory-bred hybrids. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 84: 379–393.

Dean M. D., Nachman M. W., 2009 Faster fertilization rate in conspecific versus heterospecific matings in house mice. Evolution 63: 20–28.

Dean M. D., Ardlie K. G., Nachman M. W., 2006 The frequency of multiple paternity suggests that sperm competition is common in house mice (Mus domesticus). Mol. Ecol. 15: 4141–4151.

Firman R. C., Simmons L. W., 2008 The frequency of multiple paternity predicts variation in testes size among island populations of house mice. J. Evol. Biol. 21: 1524–1533.

Good J. M., Handel M. A., Nachman M. W., 2008 Asymmetry and polymorphism of hybrid male sterility during the early stages of speciation in house mice. Evolution 62: 50–65.

Snook R. R., 2005 Sperm in competition: not playing by the numbers. Trends Ecol. Evol. 20: 46–53.

Turner L. M., Schwahn D. J., Harr B., 2012 Reduced male fertility is common but highly variable in form and severity in a natural house mouse hybrid zone. Evolution 66: 443–458.

White M. A., Steffy B., Wiltshire T., Payseur B. A., 2011 Genetic dissection of a key reproductive barrier between nascent species of house mice. Genetics 189: 289–304.

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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