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Predicting the future: the paradox of transgenerational non-genetic inheritance in evolution (MAKLAKOVUBIO20ARIES)

Project Description


Parental environments can affect offspring performance over many generations. This can shape the lifestyle of offspring and grand-offspring, but to what end? Despite the surge of interest in this type of transgenerational, non-genetic inheritance, it is unclear whether its effects are adaptive or maladaptive – hence does this actually affect the overall direction and pace of evolutionary change? This project will answer these questions - by exploring how non-genetic transgenerational effects shape individual life histories and testing whether they promote evolutionary adaptation to novel environments.


You will test for the role of transgenerational non-genetic inheritance in determining 1) fitness and ageing; 2) population viability; and 3) adaptive evolution. This will be done in response to ecologically-relevant stressful environmental variation in heat waves and food shortage. You will use Caenorhabditis nematode worms - the prime model for transgenerational epigenetic research. First, you will investigate how environmental perturbations affect age-specific life histories and Darwinian fitness of offspring in a wide range of environments. Second, you will use experimental evolution to study the role of transgenerational effects in adaptation to novel environments. The aim is to advance our understanding of whether transgenerational non-genetic effects improve or impair the life of the future generations and to train a young scientist in cutting-edge research in evolutionary biology/ecology.


You will gain a wide range of skills in experimental design, literature surveys, statistical analyses, coding, scientific writing, presentational skills, experimental evolution, fitness assays and molecular biology techniques. You will receive multi-disciplinary training in evolutionary ecology/biology and in bio-gerontology, thereby increasing opportunities for employability after the PhD. You will participate in career-enhancing external training courses (Wellcome Trust) and may do part of your research in one of the leading foreign institutions in our field (Evolutionary Biology Centre at Uppsala University, Sweden).


We are looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated individual with deep interest in one of the following fields of research: evolution, ecology, genetics, biology of ageing.

More information on the supervisor for this project:
Type of programme: PhD
Start date: October 2020
Mode of study: Full-time or part-time
Studentship length: 3.5 years
Eligibility requirements: First degree in Biology, Ecology, Genetics or Zoology

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.

Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.

Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.

For further information, please visit View Website


Lind MI, Zwoinska M, Anderson J, Carlsson H, Krieg T, Larva T, Maklakov AA. (2019) Environmental variation mediates the evolution of anticipatory parental effects. bioRxiv pre-print, doi:

Lind MI, Ravindran S, Sekajova Z, Carlsson H, Hinas A, Maklakov AA. (2019) Reduced insulin/IGF-1 signalling in adult parents increases offspring fitness. Evolution Letters, 3:207-216

Immler, S. (2018) The sperm factor: paternal impact beyond genes. Heredity, 121:239-247

Leftwich PT, Clarke NVE, Hutchings MI, Chapman T (2017). Gut microbiomes and reproductive isolation in Drosophila. PNAS, 201708345

Maklakov AA, Immler S (2016) The expensive germline and the evolution of ageing. Current Biology, 26:R577-R586.

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