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

Department of Biology & Biochemistry

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Dr Leslie Turner No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
Bath United Kingdom Developmental Biology Evolution Genetics Reproductive Biology

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for this PhD opportunity commencing in October 2021 and based at the Milner Centre for Evolution.

Funding is available to candidates who qualify for ‘Home’ fee status only. Candidates from the EU/EEA are advised to check their eligibility before applying. Please see the Funding Eligibility section below.

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 noncompetitive 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.

Candidate Requirements:

We require a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree (or the equivalent). 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 ([Email Address Removed]) before applying.

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

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.

Interviews will take place on Monday 19 April 2021.

Funding Eligibility:

In order to be considered for a studentship, you must qualify as a ‘Home’ student. In determining ‘Home’ student status, we follow the UK government’s fee regulations which, when available, will be explained on the UKCISA website. Although the fee regulations for 2021/22 have not yet been published, we expect (subject to confirmation) the main categories of students generally eligible for ‘Home’ fee status will be:

  • UK nationals (who have lived in the UK, EU, EEA or Switzerland continuously since September 2018)
  • Irish nationals (who have lived in the UK or Ireland continuously since September 2018)
  • EU/EEA applicants with settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme (who have lived in the UK continuously since September 2018)
  • EU/EEA applicants with pre-settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme (who have lived in the UK, EU, EEA, Switzerland or Gibraltar continuously since September 2018)
  • Applicants with indefinite leave to enter/remain in the UK (who have been resident in the UK continuously since September 2018)

EU/EEA citizens who live outside the UK are unlikely to be eligible for ‘Home’ fees and funding.

Additional information may be found on our fee status guidance webpage and on the GOV.UK website.

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project will be considered for a 3.5-year Evolution Education Trust Studentship which will cover tuition fees at the ‘Home’ rate, a tax-free maintenance allowance at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£15,285 for 2020/21) and a generous budget for research, training and outreach expenses. Important: In order to be eligible for funding, applicants must qualify as a ‘Home’ student - see Funding Eligibility section above.


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.
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