The University of Manchester Featured PhD Programmes
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University of Cambridge Featured PhD Programmes

The evolution of symbiosis - testing the evolutionary theory of ecological conditions driving the emergence of symbioses

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

About the Project

Symbiosis allows organisms to gain novel functions and exploit new ecological niches through the merger of once independent species. Several of life’s major evolutionary transitions and the structure and function of important ecosystems are underpinned by symbiosis. However, despite their global importance, we still do not understand how and why symbioses originate and evolve. This PhD will test classic evolutionary theory about the ecological conditions driving the emergence of new symbioses using experimental evolution of a model microbial symbiosis (Lowe et al. 2016 Current Biology).

By taking an experimental evolution approach you will directly test the role of evolutionary trade-offs in the origin of symbiosis, going beyond standard comparative approaches. You will use a range of cutting-edge omics techniques (genomics, metabolomics) to gain a complete picture of the molecular and physiological mechanisms that allow stable symbiosis to evolve. The PhD will provide training in a wide range of technical and quantitative skills, equipping you for your career in science.

The PhD will be based in Sheffield in a newly equipped lab offering state-of-the-art flow cytometry and imaging technologies. The supervisory team combines broad expertise in experimental evolution, ecology, physiology, mathematical modelling, and omics technologies. Supported by us you will design, conduct and analyse your own evolution experiments to discover how and why symbioses evolve. We are looking for an evolutionary biologist with a strong interest in experimental evolution and enthusiasm for gaining experience of new omics techniques.

Lowe CD, Minter EA, Cameron DD, Brockhurst MA. Shining a light on exploitative host control in a photosynthetic symbiosis. Current Biology. 2016. 26(2):207-211.

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 to learn more.

Funding Notes

The applicant will need to find 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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