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UK PhD scholarship in Molecular biology

Phenotypic plasticity is exhibited by most organisms and has been integral to the success of many species. However, exactly how different organismal phenotypes can be produced from the same genotype remains one of the major unresolved issues in biology today. Some of the best and most extreme examples of phenotypic plasticity are exhibited by the social insects (ants, bees, wasps and termites). Almost all social insects show phenotypic plasticity over reproduction, with a few individuals developing into reproductive queens while most individuals develop into more-or-less sterile workers. In addition, many ants show more complex phenotypic plasticity, with workers consisting of a number of morphologically distinct castes that can vary by orders of magnitude in size and show extreme morphological adaptations for their particular role in the colony. Surprisingly, however, our understanding of the environmental and genetic factors determining the development of social insect phenotypes is limited and comes from only a small handful of species.
The student will address this knowledge gap by combining manipulative experiments with transcriptomic approaches to investigate the environmental cues and genetic mechanisms involved in caste determination of leaf-cutting ants. The project will both produce fundamental insights into arguably the most striking feature of social insects and will help inform the development of novel strategies for the control of pest species. The studentship will include a period of at least 6 months spent working at the research facilities of the CASE partner in the UK or Switzerland, and some fieldwork in Brazil. The student will join a young and dynamic research group, with well equipped laboratories for both molecular biology and entomology. See http://www.personal.leeds.ac.uk/~fbswohh/ for further details of the lab and our research.
Candidates should have a very good degree in Biology, Zoology or a related discipline, as well as a genuine interest in evolutionary and molecular biology. For further information about the studentship, please email me (w.o.h.hughes@leeds.ac.uk) with a copy of your CV, including academic marks and details of your research experience. Formal applications should be made through the Graduate School: http://www.fbs.leeds.ac.uk/gradschool/research.
Funding Notes:
This is a directly-funded CASE studentship, in collaboration with Syngenta. Funding includes fess and an enhanced stipend for students who are UK citizens. Citizens of other EU countries may also apply, but should note that the studentship will only cover their fees.
1. Hughes et al., 2003. PNAS 100:9394-9397.
2. Hughes & Boomsma, 2007. Proc R Soc Lond B 274:1625-1630.
3. Hughes & Boomsma, 2008. PNAS 105:5150-5153.
4. Kamakura, 2011. Nature 473:478-483.
5. Nygaard et al., 2011. Genome Research doi: 10.1101/gr.121392.111.
6. Nygaard et al., in press. Genome Biology.

Dead Line: 31 January 2012