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Transgenerational effects of pollutants: the role of the egg

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  • Full or part time
    Dr H Muhamad Ali
    Dr S J Plaistow
    Prof R Goodacre
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Anthropogenic stress is altering our planet at an unprecedented rate and has major implications for global biodiversity, health and the economy. This is especially true in freshwaters where there are now more than 100,000 registered chemicals that can enter natural ecosystems. It is therefore critical that we understand the impact that these novel stressors have on ecology and evolution.

Our current risk assessment framework focusses on the effects of acute and chronic pollutant exposure on individuals. But, pollution may also affect future, non-exposed descendants if it induces non-genetic inheritance (NGI). This might arise if exposure to the pollutant induces epigenetic changes, as we have recently demonstrated in the water flea Daphnia pulex. Or alternatively, if exposure to a pollutant changes the composition, or provisioning of eggs, and this then alters gene expression and patterns of offspring development.

In this project, you will focus on the second hypothesis using a state-of-the-art metabolomic approach (Raman and infrared spectroscopies, and mass spectrometry) to identify changes in the metabolic profiles of eggs from genetically identical mothers exposed to different types of pollutants. You will then use transcriptomics and confocal microscopy to determine how the development of genetically identical offspring changes when their mothers are exposed to different pollutants, and the consequences this has for life-histories and population growth. Finally, you will develop the Daphnia egg assays as rapid pre-screening tool for use in ecological risk assessment working directly with SCYMARIS Ltd, a leading ecotoxicology lab based in Brixham, Devon.

The multifaceted nature of this project will give the successful candidate a broad training in modern biology techniques including omics, microscopy, image analysis, experimental design and various multivariate statistical methods. The candidate will join a well-funded lab investigating mechanisms underpinning rapid adaptation, and be part of a vibrant ecology and evolution group in Liverpool’s Institute of Integrative Biology where unparalleled facilities for conducting this research are available.

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£15,009 tax-free, 2019-20) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership “Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment” (ACCE). ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield, and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.

Applications (CV, letter of application, 2 referees) by email to [Email Address Removed] deadline: January 8th 2020. Interviews in or after the week commencing : 10th February 2020.


Muhamadali, H., Chisanga, M., Subaihi, A. & Goodacre, R. (2015) Combining Raman and FT-IR spectroscopy with quantitative isotopic labelling for differentiation of E. coli cells at community and single cell levels. Analytical Chemistry 87, 4578-4586. Supplementary Information.

Muhamadali, H., Watt, A., Xu, Y., Chisanga, M., Subaihi, A., Jones, C., Ellis, D.I., Sutcliffe, O.B. & Goodacre, R. (2019) Rapid detection and quantification of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) using Raman spectroscopy and surface-enhanced Raman scattering. Frontiers in Chemistry 7: 412.

Daniel E. Sadler, Franziska S. Brunner, & Plaistow, S.J. (2019) Temperature and clone-dependent effects of microplastics on immunity and life-history in Daphnia magna (accepted in Environmental Pollution,

Harney, E., Paterson, S. and Plaistow, S. J. (2017), Offspring development and life-history variation in a water flea depends upon clone-specific integration of genetic, non-genetic and environmental cues. Functional Ecology. doi:10.1111/1365-2435.12887

Plaistow, S.J., Shirley, C., Collin, H. Cornell, Harney, E.D. 2015 Offspring provisioning explains clone specific maternal age effects on life history and lifespan in the water flea, Daphnia pulex. The American Naturalist, 186 (3), 376-389.

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