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Investigating the genetic and evolutionary mechanisms facilitating the rapid divergence of male genitalia in Drosophila

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Tuesday, December 31, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Oxford Brookes University
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences,
Department of Biomedical and Medical Sciences

3 Year, full-time PhD studentship
Eligibility: Home UK/EU applicants who must be permanently resident in UK/EU
Closing date: 31 December 2019
Start date: September 2020
Interview: w/c 13 January 2020
Bursary p.a.: Bursary equivalent to UKRI national minimum stipend plus fees (2019/20 bursary rate is £15,009)
University fees and bench fees at the Home/EU rate will be met by the University for the 3 years of the Studentship.
Supervisors: Dr. Maria Daniela Santos Nunes

Male genitalia evolve rapidly in many animal groups but the genetic basis of this fast evolution have eluded biologists for decades. Recently we uncovered a gene, tartan, that contributes to differences in the size of a secondary genital structure between two Drosophila species. This project aims to understand the genetic and evolutionary mechanisms facilitating the rapid divergence of male genitalia taking advantage of our recent findings. Specifically, in this project we will take a multidisciplinary approach, bridging behavioural genetics, high-resolution microscopy, machine-learning, neuroscience and evolutionary genomics. These are some of the questions we aim to address:

1) Do the evolved genetic changes in trn affect mating behaviour and genital coupling in these species? This will include setting up and video recording high-throughput behavioural experiments and manual and automated measurements of standard behavioural parameters.

2) What are the mechanisms through which these changes affect reproductive fitness? This will include the study of the neural circuitry regulating the female response to mating and how this is modified in flies mated to males carrying heterospecific alleles of trn.

3) Did selection play a role in the evolution of this gene? This will include analysis of genomic data from populations of D. simulans and D. mauritiana, as well as direct tests of selection on the species-specific tartan alleles.

The results of this Project will provide fundamental insight into the mechanisms through which morphological changes affect behavioural phenotypes and the evolution of reproductive isolation between species and speciation more generally.

For further information contact Dr Maria Daniela Santos Nunes:

Funding Notes

Applicants should have a first or upper second class honours degree in a relevant area of biology or a related subject from a Higher Education Institution in the UK or acceptable equivalent qualification. EU Applicants must have a valid IELTS Academic test certificate (or equivalent) with an overall minimum score of 7.0 and no score below 6.0 issued in the last 2 years by an approved test centre.

How to apply:
Applications should be sent to and should include the follow application form
(View Website).

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