PhD Studentship: Plant genome evolution and epigenetics

University of Sussex - School of Life Sciences - Bousios Lab

Project title: Evolutionary and epigenetic interactions between transposable elements and their plant hosts

A Ph.D. studentship (42 months) is available from September 2018 under the supervision of Dr. Alexandros Bousios, in the Evolution, Behaviour and Environment Group, School of Life Sciences.

The Bousios lab is looking for a PhD student to study the impact of transposable elements (TEs) in the function and evolution of plant genomes. TEs represent the most abundant component of eukaryotic genomes, and especially in plants they can occupy up to 80-90% of their genomic content. TE activity can be deleterious for the host, because it can cause chromosomes to break or because new copies can insert within genes and disrupt their function. As a result, hosts have developed epigenetic defence mechanisms to suppress TE activity, although given the abundance of TEs, these mechanisms are not always successful.

By focusing on maize but also other fully-sequenced plant genomes, and mostly using bioinformatics approaches, the candidate will attempt to shed light on the very first steps of TE silencing, i.e. how epigenetic defences recognize the mRNA of active TEs. It is hypothesized that specific regions on the TE may play a crucial role in the recognition process, and, hence, are the foci of an ongoing evolutionary battle between TEs and hosts. In addition, the candidate will study the extent to which TEs positively influence host gene function, by lending some of their sequences to the host regulatory system. This process, known as TE exaptation or co-option, is poorly understood in plants.

For an overview of our research, please visit

Please submit a formal application using our online application system at, including a CV, degree transcripts and certificates, statement of interest and names of two academic referees.

On the application system use Programme of Study – PhD Biology.

Please make sure you include the project title and Supervisor’s name with your statement of interest on the application form.

This School funded position, which covers fees and a stipend at standard RCUK rates, is open to Home / EU applicants. Ideal candidates will have a strong background in bioinformatics and computational biology with additional experience in epigenetics, genome evolution or genomics areas, and the analysis of large datasets. Eligible applicants will have recently received an MSc and/or a First or high 2:1 BSc in a relevant subject. Candidates for whom English is not their first language will require an IELTS score of 6.5 overall, with not less than 6.0 in any section.

Contact Anna Izykowska for application enquiries (

Contact Alexandros Bousios ( for enquiries about the project.

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