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How do symbiotic microbes shape the ecology and evolution of their hosts?

   Department of Biology

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  Dr Ailsa McLean  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project is part of the DPhil in Biology at the University of Oxford

Many insects have important and persistent relationships (symbiosis) with bacteria. In some cases, the bacteria are known to protect their insect hosts against threats such as pathogens and parasites. This project will use aphids and their protective symbionts as a model system to explore how microbial associates impact the ecology and evolution of their insect hosts. Possible research questions to address include:

  • How do multiple different symbionts interact within a single insect?
  • Do different symbiont communities inside insects drive differences in ecological communities outside them?
  • How might insect–symbiont interactions alter as environments change?

Projects in this area will suit a candidate interested in using insects to address fundamental questions in ecology and evolution. You will be working with live insects as well as using molecular biology techniques, and it’s important that you are happy to engage with these different elements to the project. The project could focus more towards laboratory experiments or towards field studies, depending on the candidate. You will be encouraged to develop your project in line with your own research interests and will be supported to do so. Please contact the supervisor to discuss the project further.

This project is part of the Ecology & Conservation theme in the Department of Biology.


This project is part of the DPhil in Biology programme, and is not a funded course at the University of Oxford, as such, students are expected to explore options for funding. However, we anticipate being able to offer around 6 full graduate scholarships to incoming DPhil Students in 2023-24

You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by 20 January 2023. Scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic achievement and potential to excel as a DPhil student. 

For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit the University’s dedicated Funding pages.


For full entry requirements and eligibility information, please see the main admissions page.

How to apply

The deadline for applications for 2023-2024 entry is midday 20 January 2023. We will continue to accept applications submitted after 20 January 2023, but these late applications will not be considered for scholarship funding.

You can find the admissions portal and further information about eligibility and the DPhil in Biology Programme at the University's graduate admissions page.

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