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The long arm of parents: non-genetic effects on fitness, population viability and adaptive evolution (MAKLAKOV_UBIO19ARIES)

University of East Anglia - School of Biological Sciences

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Norwich
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: Stipend if eligible
Hours: Full Time, Part Time
Placed On: 2nd November 2018
Closes: 8th January 2019

Start date: October 2019

Closing date: 08 January 2019

No. of positions available: 1

Hours: Full-time or Part-time

Supervisor Dr. Alexei Maklakov

Project description

Scientific background

Recent discoveries showed that parental environment affects offspring performance for many generations. Despite the surge of interest in such non-genetic transgenerational inheritance, it is unclear whether such effects are adaptive or maladaptive, and to what extent they affect individual ageing, Darwinian fitness, population dynamics, and adaptive evolution. This project focuses on how environmental transgenerational effects mediate acclimation and adaptation in the novel environments, thereby increasing our understanding of the core biological processes.

Research methodology

The student will test for the role of transgenerational inheritance in 1) ageing and fitness; 2) population viability; and 3) adaptive evolution - all in response to ecologically relevant stressful environmental changes such as i) increased temperature (heat-wave) and ii) temporary lack of food. They will use Caenorhabditis ssp. nematode worms - the prime model for transgenerational epigenetic research. First, the student will investigate how environmental perturbations affect individual ageing trajectories and Darwinian fitness of offspring in a wide range of environments. Second, they will use an experimental evolution approach to study long-term population-level consequences of transgenerational effects focussing on adaptation to novel environments. The aim is to advance our understanding of whether transgenerational effects improve or impair the life of the future generations and to train a scientist in cutting-edge research in evolutionary ecology.


The student will gain a wide range of skills in experimental design, literature surveys, statistical analyses, scientific writing, scientific presentation, experimental evolution, fitness assays and molecular biology techniques. The student will receive multi-disciplinary training in evolutionary ecology/biology and in bio-gerontology, thereby increasing opportunities for employability after the PhD. The student will participate in career-enhancing external training courses (Wellcome Trust) and do part of their research in the leading foreign institution in their field (Uppsala University in Sweden).

Person specification

We are looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated student with deep interest in at least one of the following fields of research: evolution, genetics, biology of ageing. Minimum entry requirement is a 2:1.

Funding notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership. Undertaking a PhD with ARIES will involve attendance at training events.

ARIES is committed to equality & diversity, and inclusion of students of any and all backgrounds. All ARIES Universities have Athena Swan Bronze status as a minimum.

Applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited environmental science experience may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take appropriate advanced-level courses. Usually only UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 26th/27th February 2019.

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