The long arm of parents: non-genetic effects on fitness, population viability and adaptive evolution


The long arm of parents: non-genetic effects on fitness, population viability and adaptive evolution


Project Description


Dr Alexei Maklakov (UEA Biological Sciences)

Dr Simone Immler (UEA)

Prof Tracey Chapman (UEA)

Scientific background

Recent discoveries showed that parental environment affects offspring performance for many generations. Despite the surge of interest in such non-genetic transgenerational inheritance, it is unclear whether such effects are adaptive or maladaptive, and to what extent they affect individual ageing, Darwinian fitness, population dynamics, and adaptive evolution. This project focuses on how environmental transgenerational effects mediate acclimation and adaptation in the novel environments, thereby increasing our understanding of the core biological processes.

Research methodology

The student will test for the role of transgenerational inheritance in 1) ageing and fitness; 2) population viability; and 3) adaptive evolution – all in response to ecologically relevant stressful environmental changes such as i) increased temperature (heat-wave) and ii) temporary lack of food. They will use Caenorhabditis ssp. nematode worms – the prime model for transgenerational epigenetic research. First, the student will investigate how environmental perturbations affect individual ageing trajectories and Darwinian fitness of offspring in a wide range of environments. Second, they will use an experimental evolution approach to study long-term population-level consequences of transgenerational effects focussing on adaptation to novel environments. The aim is to advance our understanding of whether transgenerational effects improve or impair the life of the future generations and to train a young scientist in cutting-edge research in evolutionary ecology.


The student will gain a wide range of skills in experimental design, literature surveys, statistical analyses, scientific writing, scientific presentation, experimental evolution, fitness assays and molecular biology techniques. The student will receive multi-disciplinary training in evolutionary ecology/biology and in bio-gerontology, thereby increasing opportunities for employability after the PhD. The student will participate in career-enhancing external training courses (Wellcome Trust) and do part of their research in the leading foreign institution in their field (Uppsala University in Sweden).

Person specification

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



  • Maklakov AA, Carlsson H, Denbaum P, Lind MI, Mautz B, Hinas A and Immler S (2017) Antagonistically pleiotropic allele increases lifespan and late-life reproduction at the cost of early-life reproduction and individual fitness. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 284, 20170376
  • Immler, S. (2018) The sperm factor: paternal impact beyond genes. Heredity 121, 239-247
  • Maklakov AA and Immler S. (2016) The expensive germline and the evolution of ageing. Current Biology, 26 (13): pp. R577-R586.
  • Klosin A, Casas E, Hidalgo-carcedo C, Vavouri T & Lehner B. (2017) Transgenerational transmission of environmental information in C. elegans. Science, 356, 320-323
  • Rechavi O, Houri-Ze’evi, Anava S, Gho WSS, Kerk SY, Hannon GJ, Hobert O. (2014) Starvation-Induced Transgenerational Inheritance of Small RNAs in C. elegans. Cell, 158, 277-287

Application open

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