How does sexual selection shape sperm-female interactions? (GAGE_UBIO17EE) - CASE studentship with ETH Zurich

University of East Anglia - School of Biological Sciences

Start Date:  October 2017

No. of positions available: 1

Supervisor: Prof. Matthew Gage

Project description:  

Sexual selection, when males compete and females choose within reproduction, is a powerful evolutionary force that affects most of life on earth. We now recognize that sexual selection can operate intensively right up to the point of sperm and egg fusion, but how it shapes male and female reproductive traits, and how they interact at the intimate level of the gamete, remain poorly understood. Sperm, for example, show the greatest – largely unexplained – complexity and diversity of all eukaryotic cells. Similarly, females have complex tract structures that could control paternity, but demonstrating mechanisms of cryptic control has been challenging. Through this PhD, you will advance our understanding of these reproductive traits and processes, explaining how they influence fertilization, gene flow and reproductive isolation.

Approach & training
The PhD will take advantage of comparing between experimentally-evolved lines of the flour beetle, Tribolium castaneum, managed at UEA for over 10 years under controlled but completely different strengths of sexual selection (SS). Tribolium is a highly tractable model, and our lines provide a unique opportunity for experimental approaches using independent populations that have clearly diverged, and exhibit considerable reproductive trait diversity. You will be trained to design and analyse rigorously-controlled breeding experiments, and apply microdissection, advanced microscopy, bio-imaging and sperm analysis techniques that measure how sperm operate, compete, interact and are managed within the female reproductive tract. We maintain GFP and RFP lines, producing sperm that fluoresce green or red, allowing you to assay behaviour of different males’ sperm (from different SS backgrounds) within the female tract (see images). The project provides an excellent opportunity to combine unique resources and novel approaches to make important discoveries in the biodiversity of reproduction.

Research environment
You will join a welcoming, active and productive research team conducting world-class science on the evolution of reproductive function (details:, and an energetic DTP cohort. Training in a range of skills will develop you into an independent, international-impact scientist. You should have a good degree in a relevant area, research experience, and be keen to make fundamental advances in evolutionary biology. Contact supervisor Matthew Gage for further details:

Person specification:  Minimum entry 2:1 in Biological Sciences, Evolution, Genetics, or related subject.

Funding notes: This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 14/15 February 2017.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17, the stipend was £14,296.

For further information, please visit

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