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  The impact of range expansions on genomic parasitism in Lepidoptera

   Faculty of Health and Life Science

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  Prof Andrea Betancourt, Prof I J Saccheri, Prof K Dasmahapatra  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

We are seeking a PhD student with a keen interest in evolutionary biology for an exciting project in Lepidopteran genomics.

Species constantly adapt to new biotic challenges, including new parasites. Some are genetic-- transposable elements, or ‘jumping genes’, like other parasites, can invade new species, and can become endemic genomic infections. Such invasions have profound effects: they are major forces in genome evolution, and major sources of genetic and phenotypic variation. Despite the importance of transposable element invasions, we know little about them. We do know, from a few well-studied examples, that invasions sometimes occur during range expansion, due to novel species interactions in new habitats.

In this project, you will investigate genomic parasitism in Lepidoptera. Previous work suggests high rates of invasion in Lepidoptera, but no systematic study of recent invasions has been attempted in Lepidoptera, or any insect group.

You will benefit from a unique resource-- a large population genomic data set comparing ~100 year old and present-day samples from 20 Lepidopteran species-- and use these data to:

· Characterise the transposable element content of these species

· Test whether range shifts trigger transposable element activity

· Test for evidence of invasions of new transposable elements

· Collect and analyse new data from a subset of species, to analyse for evidence of past encounters with transposable elements recorded in the genome defence system

You will also benefit from high-quality genomes recently available via the Darwin Tree of Life Project (, from in-demand training in genomic analysis skills, and from the world-class genomic facilities at Liverpool.

This project blends high-risk/high-gain and fail-safe elements to maximise the potential for a successful PhD. Specific aspects of the project will be tailored to your interests, with scope for field and molecular work.

Institute webpages:


Notes and how to apply are available here:

Informal enquiries may be made to [Email Address Removed]

Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2022.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2021/21 UKRI rate £15,609)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2021/22 rate £4,500)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees (£4,500 at 2021/22 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2020/21 entry were £24,250 per annum.


Hill, T, A.J. Betancourt. 2018 Extensive exchange of transposable elements in the Drosophila pseudoobscura group. Mobile DNA 9: 20.
Hill, T, C Schlötterer and A.J. Betancourt. 2016. Hybrid dysgenesis in Drosophila simulans caused by a rapid global invasion of the P-element, PloS Genetics DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1005920.
van’t Hof, AE, P Campagne, DJ Rigden, CJ Yung, J Lingley, MA Quail, N Hall, AC Darby & IJ Saccheri. The industrial melanism mutation in British peppered moths is a transposable element. Nature 534, 102–105 (2016).
Jay P, Whibley A, Freznal L, de Cara A, Nowell RW, Mallet J, Dasmahapatra KK, Joron M (2018) Supergene evolution triggered by the introgression of a chromosomal inversion. Current Biology.

Where will I study?