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The evolution and genetics of sexual dimorphism


Project Description

Males and females of the same species are often subject to very different selection pressures and can show major differences in morphology, behaviour and life history. However, as there are very few sex-limited genes, these contradictory selection pressures act on a genome that is identical between the sexes. This can generate sexual conflict, an evolutionary tug-of-war between males and females. On the one hand, this tug-of-war is thought to act as an evolutionary brake. However, there is growing evidence that sexual conflict might actually accelerate adaptation by increasing genetic diversity in populations. Disentangling the causes and consequences of sexual conflict is a major challenge in evolutionary biology, with important implications for our understanding of adaptation and sexual dimorphism.

This project will test the causes and consequences of sexual conflict across the genome using next-generation sequencing data and birds as a model system. Birds exhibit a spectacular diversity of sexual dimorphisms and are therefore an ideal system to ask these questions. The specific approach taken can be tailored to the particular interests of the student and could include studies of gene expression, alternative splicing, adaptation, sexual selection and genome evolution.

This work would suit a highly motivated student with strong analytical skills and an enthusiasm for evolutionary genomics. Applicants should have a keen interest in learning cutting-edge genomic and bioinformatic techniques. The project will involve both computational and laboratory work, and the successful candidate will be trained in programming, wet-lab skills and state-of-the-art genomic techniques. Prior experience with bioinformatics or programming is welcomed but certainly not required. Additionally, there will be ample opportunity for the student to develop their own research interests over the course of the project.

The successful applicant will be joining a positive and collaborative research group. There will be many opportunities to collaborate with ongoing work in the lab. For more details see http://www.alisonewright.co.uk. The applicant will also benefit from the diverse range of expertise offered by the co-supervisors. Jon Slate is an evolutionary biologist with considerable knowledge of the latest genomic techniques to study adaptation. Steve Paterson has significant expertise in population genomics and next-generation sequencing technologies.

Applicants are encouraged to contact Alison Wright, the lead supervisor, for more details on the group, project and facilities (, http://www.alisonewright.co.uk).

Science Graduate School
As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll 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 http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/sgs to learn more.

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (£15,009 per annum for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.
This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment View Website. ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York, CEH, and NHM.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place in the w/c 10th February 2020.

Related Subjects

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

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

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