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Genetic models of the host-virus arms-race

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  • Full or part time
    Dr D Obbard
    Dr L McNally
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

We expect evolutionary conflict to drive antagonistic co-evolution between hosts and viruses, so that (like Alice’s Red Queen) both host and virus are “running as fast as they can, just to stand still”.

Consistent with an arms race, we often see adaptive protein evolution in viruses and in antiviral genes. Many people intuitively interpret this adaptive evolution as the outcome of a simple ‘tit-for-tat’ arms race, which reciprocally fixes beneficial mutations in the virus and host. However, although the intuitive model is appealing, it must be wrong—or at least too simple. RNA viruses and multicellular hosts cannot both be ‘running as fast as they can’, because the RNA viruses can ‘run’ (evolve) many thousands of times faster than the hosts.
This theoretical project will develop new and improved models (simulation models or analytical models) of the genetics of the coevolutionary process, as it occurs between rapidly evolving RNA viruses and their slowly evolving eukaryotic hosts. The ultimate aim of this project is to test whether coevolutionary models that are motivated by the biology of hosts and viruses are consistent with the patterns we see in real-world population-genetic data.

Specific questions to be addressed include:
1. How does the extreme disparity in evolutionary rate between hosts and viruses change the dynamics of adaptive fixation?
2. Is the impact of conflicting selection for within-individual replication and between-individual transmission evident in long-term patterns of virus evolution?
3. How do patterns of host fidelity affect patterns of adaptive co-evolution?
We expect that this work will initially be simulation-based, and will extend classical gene-for-gene and matching-allele continuum models. However, we would be excited to discuss other approaches. The successful applicant is likely to have a strong mathematical or computational background (physics, maths, computer science). Candidates with a strong bioinformatic background may also choose to include a larger component of data analysis, focussed less on model development and more on contrasting empirical data with models.

Funding Notes

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Brockhurst, M. A., et al. (2014). "Running with the Red Queen: the role of biotic conflicts in evolution." Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 281(1797).

Agrawal, A. and C. M. Lively (2002). "Infection genetics: gene-for-gene versus matching-alleles models and all points in between." Evolutionary Ecology Research 4(1): 79-90.

Dybdahl, M. F., et al. (2014). "Identifying the Molecular Basis of Host-Parasite Coevolution: Merging Models and Mechanisms." The American Naturalist 184(1): 1-13.

Tellier, A., et al. (2014). "Speed of adaptation and genomic footprints of host-parasite coevolution under arms race and trench warfare dynamics." Evolution 68(8): 2211-2224.

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 109.70

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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