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The genomics of sperm killing gene drive

Institute of Integrative Biology

About the Project

Many selfish genetic elements spread rapidly through populations by killing gametes that do not carry them. This fascinating phenomena also has practical applications: researchers are currently building synthetic gene drive systems for insertion into pest species, such as malarial mosquitos, for release into nature, to spread through populations and eliminate or modify them. Such systems have the potential to revolutionise pest control.

However, synthetic gene drives cannot be tested in vast populations over evolutionary time before they are released. The best model for understanding the fate of gene drives released into nature is to examine naturally occurring gene drives. So this project aims to understand the mechanisms behind two highly successful natural gene drive systems, both in terms of the genes involved, and how the sperm are killed.

This project will study two fruitfly species Drosophila pseudoobscura and D. subobscura, which each carry an X chromosome variant which kills Y chromosome sperm. Much is known about each, but the mechanism is unknown.

You will create the first genome for each driving X. In D. subobscura, you will also create the first genome for the species. You will be trained in bioinformatics and search for genes associated with drive. You will use microscopy to study exactly how and when the sperm die. Finally, key candidate genes will be tested using molecular techniques (potentially CRISPR-Cas if time and funding allow).

The project is very low risk, as we already have the genomic data.

Training: You will learn high level bioinformatics, as well as a range of practical fly skills.

Qualifications: The project is suited to a student with at least a good B.Sc. Upper Second in Biological or Life Sciences (particularly Genetics or Zoology).

Funding Notes

The project is open to both European/UK and International students. It is UNFUNDED and applicants are encouraged to contact the Principal Supervisor directly to discuss their application and the project.

Assistance will be given to those who are applying to international funding schemes.

The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses as well as research costs of £800 per year.


Verspoor, Rudi L., Jack ML Smith, Natasha LM Mannion, Gregory DD Hurst, and Tom AR Price. "Strong hybrid male incompatibilities impede the spread of a selfish chromosome between populations of a fly." Evolution Letters (2018).

Lindholm, Anna K., Kelly A. Dyer, Renée C. Firman, Lila Fishman, Wolfgang Forstmeier, Luke Holman, Hanna Johannesson et al. "The ecology and evolutionary dynamics of meiotic drive." Trends in ecology & evolution 31, no. 4 (2016): 315-326.

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