Professor Tracey Chapman (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)
Dr Simone Immler (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)
Why do organisms age? Ageing is an integral part of the life course of most species on Earth yet the evolution of ageing remains to be one of the “big” unsolved problems in biology.
This project integrates novel conceptual insights into the evolutionary biology and ecology of ageing that emerged in recent years. The dominant paradigm suggests that ageing evolves due to the competing resource allocation between life-history traits. This theory has been increasingly challenged as studies in different organisms suggest that the key life-history trade-off between reproduction and survival can be uncoupled.
The emerging idea maintains that ageing is caused by suboptimal gene expression in adulthood. This is because natural selection on development and early-life performance is strong, while selection on late-life performance is weak. At present, it is unclear which of these two theories offer a better explanation for organismal ageing.The progress in this field is impeded by the lack of studies that directly test these theories in ecologically relevant environments.
You will combine the genetic “tools” available in Caenorhabditis elegans nematodes – the classical model organism in evolutionary genetics – with fitness assays in complex ecologically relevant environments. You will employ a new experimental paradigm that will allow us to test how lifespan extension via gene knockdowns in evolutionary conserved signalling pathways (IIS/TOR) that shape organismal life histories affects development, growth, behaviour, reproduction and, ultimately, fitness in rapidly changing and unpredictable environments. You will use a combination of “laboratory microcosms” and real-world experiments in the natural environment.
You will gain a wide range of skills in experimental design, critical thinking, advanced statistical analyses, scientific writing, presentational skills, evolutionary ecology and evolutionary genetics. You will participate in career-enhancing external training courses. You will receive multi-disciplinary training in evolutionary ecology/biology and in bio-gerontology, thereby increasing opportunities for employability after the PhD.
We are looking for an enthusiastic and highly motivated candidate with deep interest in one of the following fields of research: evolution, ecology, genetics, biology of ageing.