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How do reproduction strategies affect fitness? A modelling study in evolution


School of Biological Sciences

Egham United Kingdom Applied Mathematics Ecology Evolution Genetics Mathematical Modelling Biological Sciences

About the Project

Mitochondria transitioned from free-living bacteria to obligate symbionts of eukaryotic cells. In this process they gave up a good part of their genome (either lost or transferred to the nucleus of their host cell) and their reproductive independence, which is controlled by the nucleus. Why did this happen?

Little is known regarding this fundamental transition (see e.g. Lane 2015). What are the selective pressures on genes in the mitochondria and the nucleus? Is there an advantage for a gene to reside in the mitochondria, where it will be passed on to all daughters, or is it better to be in the nucleus, from where the gene can be passed on to sons and daughters? We are interested in which scenarios favour the transfer of genes from bacteria engulfed by a cell to the nucleus, and the transfer of reproductive control to the host nucleus. We do this through studying models of the evolutionary dynamics of mitochondrial genes, and use this to quantify fitness based on the biology of the studied organisms (as in Sheppard et al. 2021, Ubeda and Jansen 2017).

In this work we will take a gene eye’s view on evolution, asking to what degree fitness depends on the route of inheritance. This applies to a large number of biological systems such as the fitness of genes that reside on plasmids or in the nucleus, of pathogens that transmit horizontally or vertically, and of different reproductive strategies, such as iteroparity (having more than one reproductive cycles) and semelparity (having all offspring in one go). To answer these question simulation studies and/or mathematical models will be made to infer the fitness of genes with different reproduction strategies. In a further stage it might be possible to test model predictions using data from model organisms. We welcome candidates with an interest in biology and expect interested candidates to have an interest in evolution and to have some experience in, and affinity, to modelling. We also are interested in candidates with a background in quantitative sciences, such as mathematics, physics, or computer science. For such candidates we expect a strong interest in, and affinity to, evolution and biology.

Please refer to the following link on how to apply: https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/studying-here/applying/postgraduate/how-to-apply/

When applying and in all correspondence, specify the project Title, project code (BiolSci2021-VJ) and mention this Find-a-PhD advert. Shortlisted candidates will be contacted by the end of May. Interviews will be held online in the first week of June or shortly thereafter. Project supervisors welcome informal project enquiries via Find-a-PhD email. 

N. Lane. The Vital Question Profile Books 2015

R. Sheppard, T.G. Barraclough and V.A.A. Jansen (2021) The evolution of plasmid transfer rate in bacteria and its1effect on plasmid persistence. American Naturalist.

F. Úbeda & V.A.A. Jansen (2017) The evolution of sex-specific virulence in infectious diseases. Nature Communications 7, Article number: 13849 (2016) doi:10.1038/ncomms13849


Funding Notes

This studentship is available for UK/EU applicants only. To qualify, EU applicants should be EU nationals on 1 September before the start of the course. We recommend you check your eligibility at the time of application. The studentship will cover tuition fees and will provide an annual stipend at UKRI rates of at least £17,000 per annum for three and a half years.

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