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How do interactions between mobile genetic elements enhance microbial community resilience?

Faculty of Health and Life Science

About the Project

Horizontal gene transfer is a powerful mechanism for bacterial evolution. By acquiring useful traits from their neighbours, bacteria can rapidly adapt to environmental change, demonstrated, for example, by the emergence of resistance to commonly-used antibiotics. The spread of genes between bacteria is driven by mobile genetic elements (MGEs) such as plasmids and transposons. Importantly, MGEs often interact to spread genes — transposons can jump onto plasmids to spread to new species, and plasmids can carry several different transposons, enabling multiple traits to spread at once. These interactions, and the ‘modularity’ of MGEs that results, could be the key to understanding bacterial HGT.

In this project you will be trained to develop and analyse computational models of horizontal gene transfer, integrating the results with wet-lab laboratory evolution experiments and genome sequencing, to explore how MGE interactions accelerate evolution by HGT and how this process can enhance the resilience of microbial communities to environmental stresses like antibiotic pollution. You will be trained in laboratory methods including microbiology, experimental evolution, and molecular biology, and in computational methods including computational modelling and statistics. Background in any of these subjects would be useful, but more important are enthusiasm for soil microbiology/microbial evolution and ecology, self-motivation, and the drive to develop an independent research project. Students will also develop general research skills such as scientific writing, presentation, literature reviewing, and statistical analysis, developing skills that will place them in an excellent position for a future scientific career.

The project will be jointly based in the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield, and York as part of the ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership. Applicants should generally have an upper second or first class degree in biological sciences. Please get in touch by email if you have any questions about this project or your suitability for the position, pre-application enquiries are encouraged.


Notes and how to apply are available here:

Funding Notes

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2021.

UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2020/21 UKRI rate £15,285)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2020/21 rate £4,407)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)

Note - UKRI funding only covers UK fees (£4,407 at 2020/2021 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2020/21 entry were £23,650 per annum.

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