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Evolution Education Trust PhD project - The microbiome of a microbe: evolutionary and ecological genetics of slime mould-bacteria associations

   Department of Life Sciences

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  Prof Jason Wolf  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for this funded 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.

Start Date:

Monday 2 October 2023

Intended Supervisory Team:

Lead Supervisor: Prof Jason Wolf (Milner Centre for Evolution, Department of Life Sciences, University of Bath)

Co-Supervisors: Dr Tiffany Taylor (Milner Centre for Evolution, Department of Life Sciences, University of Bath) and Prof Chris Thompson (Centre for Life’s Origins and Evolution, UCL)

Overview of the Research:

Our understanding of biology has been revolutionised by recognizing the critical importance of the microbiome. The microbiome can impact a broad array of host traits, including gene expression, behaviour, and development of diseases. While we typically consider microbiomes as being restricted to multicellular hosts, many eukaryotic microbes (i.e., protists) can host their own (much smaller bacterial) microbiota. Predatory protists often consume bacteria, which can potentially persist intracellularly because of their own defensive traits or their ability to manipulate their hosts. Such interactions can ultimately give rise (evolutionarily) to symbiotic mutualism, where the interests of the two species are aligned, or can be a source of persistent conflict characterised by predation or pathogenicity. To understand the coevolutionary processes shaping the host-microbiota relationship this project will take a broadly integrative approach, combining genomics, experimentation, and modelling. The slime mould Dictyostelium discoideum (‘dicty’) will serve as the model protist ‘host’, while diverse bacterial species will be used to capture the wide range of potential symbiotic relationships(1), including predation, parasitism, and mutualism. To understand the genetics of the interaction, we will examine natural and experimental genomic variation in dicty and traits related to their interactions with bacterial species. Key hypotheses will be tested via experimental evolution of dicty-bacterial interactions to explore how symbiotic relationships may be established and the factors that govern whether the outcomes are mutualistic or antagonistic. Mathematical models will be developed to help generate formal predictions for these studies and to understand the broader implications of the findings.

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 Prof Jason Wolf 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 (£17,668 for 2022/23) and a generous budget for research, training and outreach expenses. Eligibility criteria apply – see Funding Eligibility section above.


(1) Stewart B, N Gruenheit, AJ Baldwin, R Chisholm, D Rozen, A Harwood, JB Wolf CRL Thompson. 2022. The genetic architecture underlying prey-dependent performance in a microbial predator. Nature Communications doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-27844-x.

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