Organisms across the tree of life form partnerships with microbes for protection, metabolic and nutrition. In some cases, host and symbiont become so tightly associated that dependency evolves and the two organisms integrate both physically and genomically. Dependency on microbes is particularly prevalent among insects. These acquisitions have led many groups of insect to great success by allowing them to use otherwise unavailable resources and invade inaccessible habitats. Here we explore how dependency on microbes evolves, and how genomes combine to produce the novel functions that have allowed insects to dominate so many habitats.

In this project you will use the symbionts of ants and aphids to rigorously test hypotheses on the evolution of symbiotic dependency. This may include: exploring the early stages of genome integration in hosts that have recently evolved dependency on microbes; revealing the functional role of symbionts through shared metabolic pathways with hosts; and determining how host ecology influences gains and losses of symbionts. You will have access to large genetic databases, insect collections, in-house live organisms and cutting-edge research facilitates to fuel your investigation.

You will gain experience of molecular/experimental biology, comparative/metagenomics, bioinformatics, and statistics (e.g. comparative phylogenetics).
You will be encouraged to develop your own ideas and hypotheses.

Skills preferred:


In a multidisciplinary project such as this, candidates are unlikely to have a background in all disciplines involved. The most important qualification is motivation and that the project appeals to you. We can envisage strong candidates coming through various routes including:
* bioinformatics
* practical molecular biology
* evolutionary theory

For informal requests, do not hesitate to contact me at

Deadline for application: Sept 27, 2017

Supervisor Information: Dr. Lee Henry, Email:, Website:

Funding Notes:

The studentship is fully funded and available to EU, UK and International citizens. It will cover tuition fees as well as provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 3 years at Research Councils UK rates (£16,553 in 2017-18).

Applicants must have an excellent academic track record, with a bachelor’s degree (1st or high 2.1) in a relevant degree. An MSc in bioinformatics, evolutionary biology, or ecology is also highly desirable.



Fisher RM, Henry LM, Cornwallis CK, Kiers ET and SA West (2017). The evolution of host-symbiont dependence. Nature Communications 8:15973
Henry LM, Maiden MJC, Ferrari J and HCJ Godfray (2015). Insect life history and the evolution of bacterial mutualism. Ecology Letters 18:516-25

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