Predicting the future: the paradox of transgenerational non-genetic inheritance in evolution


Predicting the future: the paradox of transgenerational non-genetic inheritance in evolution


Project Description


Prof Alexei Maklakov, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Prof Tracey Chapman, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Dr Simone Immler, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia


Scientific background

Parental environments can affect offspring performance over many generations. This can shape the lifestyle of offspring and grand-offspring, but to what end? 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 non-genetic transgenerational effects shape individual life histories and testing whether they promote evolutionary adaptation to novel environments.

Research methodology

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 stressful environmental variation in heat waves and food shortage. You will use Caenorhabditis nematode worms – the prime model for transgenerational epigenetic research. First, you will investigate how environmental perturbations affect age-specific life histories and 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 novel environments. The aim is to advance our understanding of whether transgenerational non-genetic effects improve or impair the life of the future generations and to train a young scientist in cutting-edge research in evolutionary biology/ecology.


You will gain a wide range of skills in experimental design, literature surveys, statistical analyses, coding, scientific writing, presentational skills, experimental evolution, fitness assays 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 (Wellcome Trust) and may do part of your research in one of the leading foreign institutions in our field (Evolutionary Biology Centre at Uppsala University, Sweden).

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, biology of ageing and a BSc or MSc in Biology, Ecology, Genetics or Zoology.


  • Lind MI, Zwoinska M, Anderson J, Carlsson H, Krieg T, Larva T, Maklakov AA. (2019) Environmental variation mediates the evolution of anticipatory parental effects. bioRxiv pre-print, doi:
  • Lind MI, Ravindran S, Sekajova Z, Carlsson H, Hinas A, Maklakov AA. (2019) Reduced insulin/IGF-1 signalling in adult parents increases offspring fitness. Evolution Letters, 3:207-216
  • Immler, S. (2018) The sperm factor: paternal impact beyond genes. Heredity, 121:239-247
  • Leftwich PT, Clarke NVE, Hutchings MI, Chapman T (2017). Gut microbiomes and reproductive isolation in Drosophila. PNAS, 201708345
  • Maklakov AA, Immler S (2016) The expensive germline and the evolution of ageing. Current Biology, 26:R577-R586.

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

Studentship now open for applications

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