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The genetics and evolution of late-life disease in Pristionchus nematodes, Biosciences PhD (Funded)

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  • Full or part time
    Dr C Weadick
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in May 2019 or as soon as possible thereafter. For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £14,777 for 4 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study. The student would be based in the Biosciences Department in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus.

Senescence, the decline in health and increase in risk of death that occur with advancing age, is a nearly universal feature of multicellular life. Why senescence occurs, and why its dynamics are so variable across the tree of life, are major questions in evolution and genetics—questions with important implications for understanding human health. A key focal point of evolutionary genetic research is understanding whether natural selection shapes senescence. Here, there are two main ideas for why senescence evolves: (1) it evolves because selection becomes weak late in life; (2) it evolves as a by-product of selection on mutations that are beneficial early in life but senescence-causing late in life. Unfortunately, identifying convincing examples of these models in action at the genetic level has proven challenging, as past efforts have mostly involved the study of artificially induced mutations, not naturally occurring ones. Exploring the genetics basis of natural variation in senescence has the potential to provide important insights into the evolutionary basis of late-life illness and mortality.

This project seeks to characterize the genetic basis of a naturally occurring senescent disease, and to explore if and how natural selection contributed to this disease’s evolution. This will be done using Pristionchus pacificus nematodes. P. pacificus is a free-living roundworm that is well-suited for research at the interface of evolutionary biology and developmental genetics, possessing a short life cycle, a fully sequenced genome, and a comprehensive molecular toolkit for genetic manipulations.
The PhD student will be responsible for generating and assaying genetic mapping lines formed from a cross between natural P. pacificus strains that differ in their susceptibility to a post-reproductive blistering disease of the cuticle. Identifying the genetic basis of this disease will set the stage for experimental and comparative evolutionary analysis of age-dependent cuticular disease. The student will obtain hands-on experience in relevant fields and techniques, including microscopy, molecular biology, and bioinformatics. The student will also have the opportunity to attend UK/EU-based training workshops, and to visit project collaborators in Germany.

Candidates must demonstrate a keen interest in evolutionary biology and/or genetics. Students with experience with nematology and molecular biology are particularly encouraged to apply.

Relevant Papers:

1. Weadick & Sommer (2016)

2. Witte et al (2015)

3. Sommer & McGaughran (2013)

4. Gems (2015)

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees and a tax-free stipend. For students who pay UK/EU tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £14,777 per year tax-free stipend. Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend.
The studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 4 years of full-time study to commence in May 2019.

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