A major goal of evolution is to understand how selection acts in the genome. Many species reproduce via self-fertilisation, where individuals produce both male and female gametes that can be used to produce offspring. This reproductive mode affects ecological dynamics such as species’ invasions, because it allows individuals to propagate without needing a mate. However, it can also affect genetic diversity and evolution, as genomes are more likely to be inherited as large linked blocks in comparison to randomly-mating species.
Although there are many classic expectations on how selfing species evolve, these ideas are being challenged by emerging population genomic data from selfing organisms that have revealed unusual patterns of genetic diversity and evolution. These include the presence of surprisingly high-diversity regions in the genome, despite the fact that self-fertilisation is meant to reduce diversity; and long areas of the genome subject to selection, potentially carrying multiple interacting mutations.
These observations raise several important questions, including: what evolutionary forces underlie these phenomena? How can we best infer them in species that self-fertilise? Does a species’ evolutionary history affect what we see in genome data? Does the mating-system help or hinder the formation of co-adapted mutational regions? How do all these forces affect the long-term evolutionary potential of selfers?
The Hartfield lab has recently been awarded a major grant to investigate these questions. As a PhD student, you will have the opportunity to develop novel computational methods to understand fundamental evolutionary phenomena, and use the results to make inferences from big genomic datasets, especially those from Caenorhabditis nematodes and self-fertilising plants. High-quality training in bioinformatics and genome sequence analyses will be provided through Edinburgh Genomics.
Further training in statistical analyses, population genetics, and programming will be provided by the lead supervisor. The project is flexible and you will be encouraged to tailor your research to your particular interests. This is a quantitative biology project, so mathematical and/or computational skills are highly desirable.
This hire is part of the newly-funded project SelectSelf, which aims to investigate genetic evolution in self-fertilising species. This project was initially offered funding via an ERC Consolidator grant; funding will subsequently be provided by a UKRI Frontier Research grant (Horizon Europe backup funding). At least one postdoc will be recruited soon, with further recruitment expected in the future. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact the PI Matthew Hartfield to discuss the project further. We are looking for the project to start in January 2023.
The “Apply now” button will take you to our online Application Checklist. From here you can formally apply online via EUCLID.
This is a 4 year fully funded PhD project at UKRI stipend level with a start date of 1st January 2023. This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend and tuition fees.
Deadline 10th October 2022
Anderson, E. et al. (2012) “Chromosome-scale selective sweeps shape Caenorhabditis elegans genomic diversity”. Nat. Genet. 44: 285–290.
Hartfield, M et al. (2017) “The Evolutionary Interplay between Adaptation and Self-Fertilization”. Trends in Genetics 33: 420–431.
Lee, D. et al. (2021) “Balancing selection maintains hyper-divergent haplotypes in Caenorhabditis elegans”. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 5: 794–807.