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The ecology of a sex-ratio distorting meiotic driver

  • Full or part time
    Dr T Price
    Prof G Hurst
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 09, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Aim: to understand how the behaviour, genetics, and ecology of a fly is affected by a selfish X chromosome.

Background: Gene drive systems are selfish genes that manipulate reproduction to enhance their transmission, at a cost to the rest of the genome. Currently, synthetic gene drive systems are being constructed for insertion into pest populations to eliminate or modify them. To predict the outcome of such a release, we need to understand the dynamics of naturally occurring gene drive systems.

X chromosome meiotic drive (XCMD) is a key model for gene drive. In males, these selfish X chromosomes kill Y chromosome bearing sperm during spermatogenesis, so all functional sperm carry the driving X, and all offspring are daughters. This can allow XCMD to spread very rapidly through populations, distorting sex ratios, and potentially eliminating entire populations due to a lack of males. However, almost all XCMDs seen in nature are at stable frequencies and do not spread. The reasons for this stability are not understood.

This project aims to investigate the factors preventing the spread of the XCMD “SRs” in the fruit fly Drosophila subobscura. SRs occurs at frequencies of 20% in North Africa. However, it cannot spread into European populations, because SRs becomes completely sterile when exposed to European genes. This incompatibility between SRs and European D. subobscura may indicate the populations are separating into two species, due to the genomic conflict SRs creates.

1. Track the frequency of SRs in populations across Morocco, to correlate frequency with environmental variables.
2. Use laboratory experiments to test potential limiting factors.
3. Examine whether the reduced abundance of SRs in North Morocco is due to genotypes immigrating across from Spain.

This project will involve fieldwork in Morocco and Spain, molecular and behavioural lab experiments, with optional genomics and modelling.

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£14,777 tax-free, 2018-19) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership ACCE, View Website. ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.

Applications (CV, letter of application, 2 referees) by email to , deadline: January 9 2019. Interviews in or after the week commencing: 11th February 2019. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed for only one project from the ACCE partnership.

This project is also available to self-funded students. A fees bursary may be available.


Verspoor, R. L., Smith, J. M., Mannion, N. L., Hurst, G. D. D. & Price T. A. R. (2018). Strong hybrid male incompatibilities impede the spread of a selfish chromosome between populations of a fly. Evol Letts, 2, 169-179.

Verspoor, R. L., Hurst, G. D. D. & Price T. A. R. (2016). The ability to gain matings, not sperm competition, reduces the success of males carrying a selfish genetic element in a fly. Anim Behav 115, 207-215.
Lindholm, A. K., Dyer, K. A., Firman, R. C., Fishman, L., Forstmeier, W., ... & Price, T. A. R. (2016). The ecology and evolutionary dynamics of meiotic drive. Trends Ecol & Evol, 31, 315-326.

Giraldo-Perez, P., Herrera, P., Campbell, A., Taylor, M.L., Skeats, A., Aggio, R., Wedell, N. & Price, T.A.R. (2015) Winter is coming: hibernation reverses the outcome of sperm competition in a fly. J Evol Biol, 29, 371-379.

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