Ants, Bees, Genomes & Evolution @ Queen Mary University London

Open PhD studentship: Evolutionary genomics of social insects

We have an exciting PhD position open through the London NERC DTP.

Apply by March 18th on the QMUL website.

The studentship is funded by the London NERC DTP will cover tuition fees and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 4 years at the Research Council rate (£17,009 in 2019/20). Candidates must meet RCUK eligibility criteria (I think this means ok for UK citizens and medium-term residents).

The project is highly interdisciplinary.

Great candidates fulfill at least 3 of the following 4 criteria:

We can adapt the project to the students’ interests and background.

If you have any questions regarding prerequisites, scope or nature of the project, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me (Yannick).

Research context

We have two main lines of research, in collaboration with national and international colleagues and stakeholders.

Genetics of social behaviour. Social animals exhibit a broad range of behaviors, and some theoretical understanding exists of the tradeoffs between different forms of social organisation. However, we know little about the genes and processes underpinning social organisation or how it evolves. The diversity of social behaviors across the 20,000 species of ants represents a unique opportunity to empirically understand the mechanisms and tradeoffs involved in social change. We use highly molecular approaches, including genomics and bioinformatics but also potentially behavioural or field work to address major questions about social evolution. We aim to generate exciting new insights into genes and processes underpinning a major social transition, with implications on understanding evolution of complex phenotypes.

Molecular diagnostics for pollinator health. Effective pollination is crucial for the stability of the ecosystem, and for crop productivity. Governments had approved what they thought were “safe” levels of pesticides. But in fact, the pesticides are generic neurotoxins: they reduce the learning abilities, dexterity, foraging ability and ultimately survival of pollinators who consume nectar or pollen. As a result, several commonly used pesticides have now been banned. However, the problem may just have been shifted: we lack a good way of understanding whether authorised pesticides are better. Thus there is an urgent need for approaches that are more powerful/sensitive. The 50,000-fold drop in the cost of DNA sequence over the past 10 years has completely changed medical research and practice. Inspired by the changes, we are developing high-resolution molecular diagnostics approaches for pollinator health – these are poised to fundamentally change for the better how research on pesticides is performed and the mechanisms through which such crop chemicals are evaluated by regulatory agencies.


The student will receive extensive training in big data bioinformatics, phylogenomics, data visualisation, and experimental research approaches in evolution and genomics. Furthermore, they will receive hands-on training in interdisciplinary project management, communicating science in writing and verbally, including by presenting at workshops and conferences.

February 27, 2019