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The role of transposable elements and whole genome duplication in generating phenotypic diversity in neotropical catfishes (TAYLOR_UBIO17EE)

Project description

Scientific background

The Corydoras catfishes are a fascinating, species rich group of South American catfishes comprising more than 200 species. They show great diversity in their colour patterns and frequently mimic one another’s patterns when living in sympatry (Alexandrou et al 2011). They also show great diversity in their genome size (amount of DNA per cell), with the largest genomes almost 6x bigger than the smallest. Genome size increases are driven by whole genome duplications (WGDs) and the proliferation of parasitic DNA sequences known as transposable elements (TEs). This project will investigate the roles of WGDs and TEs in generating phenotypic diversity in colour pattern.

Three species of mimetic Corydoras catfish.

Research methodology and training

The project will be underpinned by the availability of a Corydoras genome sequence. The project will use a range of techniques including next generation sequencing of DNA and RNA and quantitative PCR to elucidate the type (TE family), locations (e.g. in or around genes associated with pigmentation) and abundance of TEs in different species and the role of WGD on generating diversity in pigmentation genes. The project will provide training in molecular genetics, bioinformatics analysis of sequence data and phylogenetic analysis. The student will also have opportunities for conducting fieldwork in South America with Brazilian collaborators.

The applicant

Applicants should have a minimum 2:1 Bachelors degree in a biology related subject with an enquiring mind and a strong interest in evolutionary biology.  An aptitude for work with large and complex DNA sequence data sets and enthusiasm for laboratory work are essential.


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 14/15 February 2017.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17, the stipend was £14,296.

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(i) Alexandrou, M., Oliveira, C, Maillard, M, McGill, R.A.R., Newton, J., Creer, S. and M. I. Taylor. (2011) Competition and phylogeny determine community structure in Müllerian co-mimics. Nature 469:84–88, 2011. DOI:10.1038/nature09660

(ii) Van Wijk, SJ, et al.  (2013) Experimental harvesting of fish populations drives genetically-based shifts in body size and maturation. Frontiers Ecol. Environ. 11: 181–187.

  • Start date October 2017
  • Programme PhD
  • Mode of Study full time
  • Studentship Length 3.5 years
Entry requirements
  • Acceptable First Degree Biology-related subject
  • Minimum Entry Standard 2:1 Honours degree