Conservation genomics of the European Polecat


Conservation genomics of the European Polecat


Project Description


Prof Federica Di Palma, Earlham Institute

Dr Graham Etherington, Earlham Institute

Dr Wilfried Haerty, Earlham Institute


The European polecat is a medium-sized carnivore found across much of the United Kingdom. Once persecuted and found only in unmanaged forests of central Wales, it is now widespread across much of its former range. During this recent range-expansion, polecats came into contact with feral domestic ferrets and have hybridised with them. The extent of this hybridisation is unknown, but preliminary investigation suggests that it may be extensive. This project will look at the degree of hybridisation and subsequent genome introgression and asses the status of the European polecat in the UK.

The student will complete all aspects of the project. This will entail sample procurement through an already-established network of Mustelid researchers and collections. Depending on the interests and qualification of the candidate, there will also be scope for fieldwork to collect fresh samples. DNA extraction and genome sequencing will be done in the Earlham Institute (EI) genomics lab using the latest sequencing technologies. Whole genome analysis to examine genome introgression and population genetics will be carried out using the High-Performance Computer cluster at EI.

The student will interact with researchers from an extensive range of disciplines. They will have the opportunity to obtain skills in a variety of disciplines, including genomics, bioinformatics, and population genetics as well as a range of core skills provided by the doctoral training studentship. Opportunities may also arise to pursue other projects relevant to the students interests. The student will have the opportunity to travel to at least one international conference to present their research.

The ideal candidate will have a BSc in a biological science with an emphasis in conservation science, population genetics, or bioinformatics along with an interest in performing research using genomics methods such as DNA extraction, whole genome sequencing, genome analysis, etc. Alternatively, they may have a BSc in Bioinformatics with an interest in population genetics or conservation science.


  • Etherington, Graham J., Darren Heavens, David Baker, Ashleigh Lister, Rose McNelly, Gonzalo Garcia Accinelli, Bernardo J. Clavijo, Iain Macaulay, Wilfried Haerty, and Federica Di Palma. "Sequencing smart: De novo sequencing and assembly approaches for non-model mammals." bioRxiv (2019): 723890.
  • Xinxia Peng, Jessica Alföldi,....Federica Di Palma, John F Engelhardt, Robert E Palermo & Michael G Katze. 2014. The draft genome sequence of the ferret (Mustela putorius furo) facilitates study of human respiratory disease. Nature biotechnology, 32(12), p.1250.
  • Carneiro, M., Rubin, C.J., Di Palma, F., Albert, F.W., Alföldi, J., Barrio, A.M., Pielberg, G., Rafati, N., Sayyab, S., Turner-Maier, J. and Younis, S., 2014. Rabbit genome analysis reveals a polygenic basis for phenotypic change during domestication. Science, 345(6200), pp.1074-1079.
  • Davison, A., et al. "Hybridization and the phylogenetic relationship between polecats and domestic ferrets in Britain." Biological Conservation 87.2 (1999): 155-161.
  • Costa, Mafalda, et al. "The genetic legacy of the 19th‐century decline of the British polecat: evidence for extensive introgression from feral ferrets." Molecular ecology 22.20 (2013): 5130-5147.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.
  • Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area (see
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit, or contact

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