Recent discoveries suggest that organisms may transfer environmentally induced phenotypic changes to their descendants non-genetically across many generations. This mode of information transfer, referred to as transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, is neither predicted nor included in standard evolutionary models. These sensational claims promise to change the way we think about evolutionary processes, as well as about the effect of the environment on populations in nature. Remarkably, despite the surge of interest in this type of transgenerational non-genetic inheritance, it is unclear whether its effects are adaptive or maladaptive – hence does this actually affect the overall direction and pace of evolutionary change? This project will answer these questions - by exploring how transgenerational epigenetic inheritance affects Darwinian fitness and testing whether they promote population viability in changing environments.
You will test for the role of transgenerational non-genetic inheritance in determining 1) fitness and ageing; 2) population viability; and 3) adaptive evolution. This will be done in response to ecologically relevant environmental variation, such as pathogens, heat waves and food shortage. You will use Caenorhabditis nematodes - the prime model for transgenerational epigenetic research where most of the exciting recent discoveries in this field were made. First, you will investigate how environmental perturbations affect Darwinian fitness of offspring in a wide range of environments. Second, you will use experimental evolution to study the role of transgenerational effects in adaptation to changing environments. The aim is to advance our understanding of whether transgenerational non-genetic inheritance improves or impairs the life of the future generations and to train a scientist in cutting-edge research in evolutionary biology/ecology.
You will gain a wide range of skills in experimental design, statistical analyses, coding, scientific writing, presentational skills, experimental evolution and molecular biology techniques. You will receive multi-disciplinary training in evolutionary ecology/biology and in bio-gerontology, thereby increasing opportunities for employability after the PhD. You will participate in career-enhancing external training courses and in-house research discussion groups and journal clubs.
We are looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated student with deep interest in one of the following fields of research: evolution, ecology, genetics
For more information please visit the supervisor's UEA webpage Alexei Maklakov — University of East Anglia (uea.ac.uk)
The start date is 1 October 2022
Entry requirements: Acceptable first degree 2:1 in Evolution, Ecology, Genetics