Testing Classical and Emerging Evolutionary Theories of Ageing in Ecologically Relevant Environments


Testing Classical and Emerging Evolutionary Theories of Ageing in Ecologically Relevant Environments


Project Description


Dr Alexei Maklakov (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia) contact me

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

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

Project Background

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.

Research Methodology

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.

Person Specification

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.


  • 1. 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
  • 2. Maklakov AA, Chapman T (2019) Evolution of ageing as a tangle of trade-offs: energy versus function. Proc R Soc B, https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.1604
  • 3. Chen H-y, Jolly C, Bublys K, Marcu D, Immler S (2020) Trade-off between somatic and germline repair in a vertebrate supports the expensive germ line hypothesis. PNAS, 117 (16), 8973-8979
  • 4. Spagopoulou F, Teplitsky C, Chantepie S Lind MI, Gustafsson L, Maklakov AA (2020) Silver-spoon upbringing improves early-life fitness but promotes reproductive ageing in a wild bird. Ecology Letters, 23: 994-1002
  • 5. 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 DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be 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 significant relevant non-academic 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.

Get in Touch

aries.dtp@uea.ac.uk /