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  SWBio DTP PhD project: Evolutionary genetics of adaptation to pesticide mixtures

   Department of Life Sciences

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  Prof Jason Wolf  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP).

The SWBio DTP is funded by BBSRC and involves a partnership of world-renown universities, research institutes and industry across the South West and Wales. This partnership represents a distinctive group of bioscientists with established international, national and regional networks and widely recognised research excellence. We aim to provide students with outstanding interdisciplinary research training.

Studentships are available for entry in October 2023.

All SWBio DTP projects will follow a structured 4-year PhD programme, combining traditional project-focussed studies with a taught first year which includes directed rotation projects.

Supervisory Team:

Lead supervisor: Prof Jason Wolf, University of Bath, Department of Life Sciences, Milner Centre for Evolution (email: [Email Address Removed])

Co-supervisors: Dr Nicholas Priest (University of Bath) and Dr Philip Madgwick (Syngenta, subject to contract)

CASE partner (subject to contract):

Syngenta AG (Bracknell, Berkshire)

The Project:

The evolution of complex ‘multidimensional’ traits has been a fundamental problem in evolutionary biology since Darwin’s (1859) musings about ‘correlation of growth’ in The Origin of Species. This problem is not only important from a ‘pure science’ perspective but also has critical applied consequences for evolution in action, including what is arguably its best example: pesticide resistance in agricultural systems. Theoretical work predicts that use of multiple pesticides can delay resistance evolution, making mitigation of pesticide resistance a case where understanding multi-trait evolution is particularly crucial. This project will address this problem through a broadly integrative approach, combing modelling with genomics and experimental evolution. By focusing on pesticides as a selective agent, this project not only addresses fundamental evolutionary questions but also the key applied problem of how to delay the evolution of pesticide resistance.

On the theory side, a modelling framework will be developed for predicting how anthropogenic selection drives the microevolutionary changes that we can observe in real time. On the experimental side, the genetics and evolution of insecticide resistance will be studied using the fly Drosophila melanogaster. First, the genetic architecture of resistance to multiple insecticides will be characterised through genome wide association studies (GWAS). These results will be applied to the models to predict evolutionary outcomes under different patterns of selection from insecticides. These predictions will then be tested through experimental evolution of fly populations. Evolutionary changes in resistance will be tracked along with genome-wide evolutionary responses (through large-scale genome sequencing). Results from experimental evolution will feed back on the models to evaluate their predictive power and inform their further refinement. The ultimate goal will be to understand the efficacy of using insecticides together to delay resistance, which will have important implications in areas such as sustainable agriculture and eradicating diseases.

The student will benefit from joint supervision by academics at the University of Bath and researchers at Syngenta (subject to contract), providing a strong academic foundation to the science and clear applied goals to maximise the impact of the work. By simultaneously making advances through theory, experimentation, and data analysis, this project has multiple pathways to achievement for an ambitious student. The student will be supported by a comprehensive training plan that integrates the necessary computational, mathematical, and empirical skills, preparing students from a wide range of backgrounds for successful completion of this project.

Project keywords: experimental evolution, resistance management, quantitative genetics, applied evolution, population genetics.


Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Masters degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

In addition, due to the strong mathematical component of the taught course in the first year and the quantitative emphasis in our projects, a minimum of a grade B in A-level Maths or an equivalent qualification/experience* is required.

* Physics A-level (grade B and above) or units in your degree with a significant mathematical component, e.g. maths, statistics, bioinformatics.

Applicants must ensure they highlight their Maths background within their application and to upload any supporting evidence.

If English is not your first language, you will need to have achieved Academic IELTS 6.5 overall (with no less than 6.5 in any of the four skills). Find details of other acceptable tests and further information on our website.

Enquiries and Applications:

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be directed to the lead supervisor.

Formal applications should be submitted on the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biosciences.

When completing the form, please identify your application as being for the SWBio DTP studentship competition in Section 3 Finance (question 2) and quote the project title and lead supervisor’s name in the ‘Your research interests’ section.  You may apply for more than one project within the same application but you should upload a separate (clearly labelled) personal statement for each one, outlining your interest and suitability for that particular project.

See our website for more information about applying for a PhD at Bath.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

We want to support diverse and inclusive work environments. We therefore welcome applications from individuals regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, gender or disability status.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4) Mathematics (25)

Funding Notes

Candidates may be considered for an SWBio DTP studentship tenable for 4 years. Funding covers tuition fees, a stipend (£17,668 p/a in 2022/23 + £500 p/a enhancement from Syngenta, subject to contract) plus an allowance for research and training costs. Studentships are open to Home and International students; however, International applicants should note that funding does NOT cover the cost of a student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK. In line with guidance from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the number of awards available to International candidates will be limited to 30% of the total.

How good is research at University of Bath in Biological Sciences?

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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