Evolutionary Ecology of Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance


Evolutionary Ecology of Transgenerational Epigenetic Inheritance


Project Description


Professor Alexei Maklakov (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia) – Contact me

Professor Tracey Chapman (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)

Professor Simone Immler (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)


Project Background

Recent discoveries suggest that organisms may transfer environmentally induced phenotypic changes to their descendants non-genetically across many generations. This mode of information transfer, referred to as transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, is neither predicted nor included in standard evolutionary models. These sensational claims promise to change the way we think about evolutionary processes, as well as about the effect of the environment on populations in nature. Remarkably, despite the surge of interest in this type of transgenerational non-genetic inheritance, it is unclear whether its effects are adaptive or maladaptive – hence does this actually affect the overall direction and pace of evolutionary change? This project will answer these questions – by exploring how transgenerational epigenetic inheritance affects Darwinian fitness and testing whether they promote population viability in changing environments.


You will test for the role of transgenerational non-genetic inheritance in determining 1) fitness and ageing; 2) population viability; and 3) adaptive evolution. This will be done in response to ecologically relevant environmental variation, such as pathogens, heat waves and food shortage. You will use Caenorhabditis nematodes – the prime model for transgenerational epigenetic research where most of the exciting recent discoveries in this field were made. First, you will investigate how environmental perturbations affect Darwinian fitness of offspring in a wide range of environments. Second, you will use experimental evolution to study the role of transgenerational effects in adaptation to changing environments. The aim is to advance our understanding of whether transgenerational non-genetic inheritance improves or impairs the life of the future generations and to train a scientist in cutting-edge research in evolutionary biology/ecology.


You will gain a wide range of skills in experimental design, statistical analyses, coding, scientific writing, presentational skills, experimental evolution and molecular biology techniques. You will receive multi-disciplinary training in evolutionary ecology/biology and in bio-gerontology, thereby increasing opportunities for employability after the PhD. You will participate in career-enhancing external training courses and in-house research discussion groups and journal clubs.

Person specification

We are looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated student with deep interest in one of the following fields of research: evolution, ecology, genetics.


  • 1) Ivimey-Cook ER, Sales K, Carlsson H, Immler S, Chapman T, Maklakov AA (2021) Transgenerational fitness effects of lifespan extension by dietary restriction in Caenorhabditis elegans. Proc R Soc B, in press
  • 2) Lind MI, Zwoinska MK, Andersson J, Carlsson H, Krieg T, Larva T, Maklakov AA (2020) Environmental variation mediates the evolution of anticipatory parental effects. Evolution Letters, online, https://doi.org/10.1002/evl3.177
  • 3) Silva WTAF, Otto SP, Immler S (2021) Evolution of plasticity in production and transgenerational inheritance of small RNAs under dynamic environmental conditions. PLOS Genetics 17(5): e1009581.
  • 4) Baugh LR, Day T (2020) Nongenetic inheritance and multigenerational plasticity in the nematode C. elegans. eLife, 9: e58498
  • 5) Kaletsky, R., Moore, R.S., Vrla, G.D. et al. (2020) C. elegans interprets bacterial non-coding RNAs to learn pathogenic avoidance. Nature 586, 445–451.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2022. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2022.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. 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.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship click on the “Apply now” link below.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

Applications are open

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