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Red Queen communities: coevolution of multiple parasites with a worm host population

Important description
Coevolution between hosts and parasites is typically investigated in a pair of host-parasite species. However, most hosts have to resist multiple parasites (co-infection), and parasite species have to compete with each other. In nature, most coevolution will thus be driven within a community of interactions. Experimental analysis of parasite-host coevolution in a multispecies context has yet to be undertaken. This is despite the recognition by Van Valen (1973) in his seminal paper on Red Queen antagonistic coevolution that interactions are not binary: ‘Response to one kind of pressure may well decrease resistance to some other, weaker kind.’ This project will examine the consequences of coevolutionary dynamics between a community of parasites and their host.

The student will address a series of research questions about the effects of coevolution at the community level. For example, (i) how does coevolution between co-infecting parasites affect virulence evolution? (ii) does selection for host resistance to one parasite trade-off with resistance to another, or does general resistance evolve?

The multicellular animals, Caenorhabditis elegans, are ideal as a system to address the above questions. Experimental evolution can be easily conducted in these worms, and C. elegans has been characterized as a host for multiple human pathogenic bacteria species (i.e., Staphylococcus aureus and Enterococcus faecalis), which can be easily cultured, maintained, and evolved. Given the wealth of molecular resources available for C. elegans and human pathogens, in the second/third year of the project, the student may have the opportunity to examine the molecular underpinnings of evolved worm host resistance to different pathogens. The student will receive strong training in evolutionary biology and microbiology, experimental evolution, molecular techniques (qPCR, microarrays), experimental design, and statistical analysis.

To apply please use the online application system at: http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/postgraduate_courses/apply/ . Please remember to quote the studentship reference code DTG7. Any queries regarding the application procedure please contact graduate.office@zoo.ox.ac.uk. The closing date is 18th January 2013. Please note that as this is a studentship project, no research proposal is required, please submit a statement of purpose/personal statement in its place. The University of Oxford is an Equal Opportunities employer.

Eligibility and other criteria
European/UK Students Only:
This research project has funding attached. Funding for this project is available to citizens of a number of European countries (including the UK). In most cases this will include all EU nationals. However full funding may not be available to all applicants and you should read the full department and project details for further information.

Application deadline
*18 January 2013

Additional information, and important URL

The full award, including a stipend from NERC (currently £13,590pa) is available only to residents of the UK, or those satisfying the NERC eligibility criteria ( http://www.nerc.ac.uk ). Please see NERC website for full terms and conditions. EU applicants are eligible for a fees only award. Application is available online at http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/postgraduate_courses/apply/

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