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PhD in evolutionary biology - retracing the origins of C4 photosynthesis in the grass Alloteropsis semialata

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

Sheffield United Kingdom Ecology Evolution Genetics Molecular Biology Plant Biology

About the Project

During evolution, grasses acquired a variety of functional traits that allowed them to colonize almost all environments around the globe, and rank amongst the most productive crops, weeds, and invasive species. These traits originate from random mutations in the genome, which were repeatedly filtered by natural selection. How did these microevolutionary processes lead over time to major ecological innovations of impressive complexity?

This question will be addressed using C4 photosynthesis as a study system. This complex trait results from multiple anatomical and biochemical components that act in concert to boost productivity in tropical conditions. How each of these can be selected for in the absence of the others remains unknown. The grass Alloteropsis semialata is the only species known to include both C4 and non-C4 genotypes, offering unparalleled opportunities to understand the microevolutionary origins of C4 photosynthesis.

Using comparative genomics, population genomics, phylogenetics, comparative anatomy, and comparative ecology, the PhD student will assess the ecological drivers that selected for each C4 component and track the responsible mutations through space and time. Depending on the student interests, the research can involve bioinformatics, molecular biology, and/or experimental approaches.

Science Graduate School

As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you will get access to training opportunities of the Science Graduate School designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You will be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

Funding Notes

Applicants will need to obtain funding to cover tuition fees and living expenses. The applicant should have, or expect to gain at least an upper second class degree, or equivalent overseas qualification, in a relevant subject

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