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Genetic constraints on adaptive evolution

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Research in my group aims to understand how the genetic encoding of traits affects whether and how they will respond to selection. We study this in two contexts. First, we use the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster to investigate how the evolution of sexual dimorphism is constrained by genetic correlations between male and female traits, i.e., their shared genetic basis. We have identified so-called ‘sexually antagonistic’ genes that harbour allelic variation with opposing fitness effects on males and females. We are now taking this work forward in two directions. First, we are looking to experimentally verify putative antagonistic allelic effects using functional genetic approaches (genome editing, characterization of allelic effects on phenotypes). Second, we study the population- and phylogenetics of antagonistic genes across populations of D. melanogaster and closely related species. The aims here are to infer for how long antagonism persists and how it is resolved. Our results will be important for our understanding of how the genetics of traits limit the independent adaptive optimisation of phenotypes in each sex and thereby maintain maladaptation. Beyond basic research, these insights matter in the context of biomedicine, where antagonistic selection can maintain risk alleles for sex-specific diseases.

A second and complementary strand of research, in collaboration with Prof Jürg Bähler at UCL, investigates the effect of genetic correlations in the context of adaptation to environmental variation. Here, we use the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe, a powerful microbial system. We study the evolution of environment-dependent gene regulation in highly controlled laboratory set-ups and use wild strains to investigate how the genetic architecture of stress responses shapes adaptation to sudden, abrupt changes in the external environment (‘evolutionary rescue’). The insights we gain here will help us understand how wild population can deal with climate change, but are also relevant to managing resistance evolution in a medical or agricultural context.

In practical terms, the research in my lab exploits the phenotypic and genetic approaches available for our model organisms and combines experimental work with the use of modern sequencing technologies, bioinformatics and mathematical modelling. More information about my group, our research and a list of publications is available on the lab website

I am seeking a PhD student to join my group at UCL and contribute to our ongoing work. We can offer exciting research in a diverse and stimulating environment at one of the UK’s best universities.

Funding is available through two doctoral training programmes, the London NERC DTP ( and the BBSRC LIDo DTP ( Both typically have deadlines in January, please check exact dates on their websites.

There is also a very small number of Graduate Scholarships available at UCL. These are targeted at exceptional individuals and are very competitive. But if you think you might be suitable, contact me as early as possible (the selection process starts before the Christmas break).

Please email me () for more details about projects and applications.

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