Our Doctoral Training Partnership reflects the breadth of science at Imperial College London (ICL) and Royal Holloway University of London (RHUL), and projects are offered with the intent to promote a multidisciplinary training in the modern biosciences. Our programme covers the full remit of BBSRC science, with a special emphasis on developing and applying quantitative skills.
The studentships are offered on a 1+3 basis (1 Year of Masters study followed by 3 years of PhD Research). The Masters Course will commence in October 2018 followed by the commencement of the PhD in October 2019.
To be eligible, candidates must either have, or expect to obtain, a BSc degree at 2.1 level or higher, or an equivalent qualification. Depending on the project(s) candidates with life sciences, physical sciences, chemistry, computer sciences or mathematics backgrounds will be considered.
In exceptional circumstances, and when a candidate already holds, or is expected to obtain, a Masters degree in an appropriate subject for a particular PhD project, a 3-year studentship with direct entry to PhD will be allowed.
In all cases, candidates must fulfil the eligibility criteria: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/documents/studentship-eligibility-pdf/
The residence eligibility criteria are satisfied in full if all three of the following conditions are met: (a) the candidate is settled in the UK i.e. is ordinarily resident in the UK without being subject under the immigration laws to any restriction on the period for which they may stay in the UK; (b) the candidate has been ordinarily resident in the UK and Islands for three years immediately prior to the date of start of their course; (c) not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education, which does not apply to UK or EU nationals.
The studentship covers: an annual tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate, contribution towards research costs, and tuition fees at the UK/EU rate.
How to apply
To apply for a BBSRC DTP studentship, follow the instructions below:
1) Check the available projects. The projects based at Roayl Holloway as listed below.
You may contact potential lead supervisors for details about the projects (please note that the first name mentioned in the project description is the lead supervisor, and their contact details are given).
2) Submit a full CV, and academic transcripts if available.
3) Complete and submit the ICL / RHUL BBSRC DTP application form by downloading the ICL RHUL BBSRC DTP APPLICATION FORM. You may apply for up to 3 different projects.
4) Complete and submit the “reporting form” by downloading the ICL RHUL BBSRC DTP REPORTING FORM. This is for reporting purposes as requested by the Research Council.
5) Please send all documents in a single email to: email@example.com
DO NOT APPLY DIRECT TO ROYAL HOLLOWAY
The application deadline is 5pm on the 7th February 2018.
Interviews are expected to be held during the week commencing 5th March 2018.
Royal Holloway Based Projects
Social epidemiology: interactions, networks, and disease spread in a key pollinator
Supervisor 1: Professor Mark J F Brown, RHUL
Supervisor 2: Professor Matthew Fisher, Imperial College London
Disease spread – in humans, domesticated animals and plants, and wildlife – is a key threat to health and ecosystem services. However, how diseases spread – their epidemiology – in complex social organisms, like humans and bees, is poorly understood. Determining how diseases spread in social networks is key to understanding and controlling them. Bumblebees and their parasites provide a key model system in which to develop an understanding of such epidemiology. In addition, bumblebees are key pollinators that are undergoing decline across the globe, and one reason for these declines is parasites and the diseases they cause. Consequently, understanding disease spread in bumblebees also has significant applied conservation value.
This project will use the bumblebee Bombus terrestris and its parasites Crithidia bombi and Nosema bombi, both of which have significant impact on bumblebee colonies, to ask how social structures affect parasite epidemiology. Importantly, it will combine both empirical experiments and modelling work to understand parasite dynamics. Empirical research will range from controlled laboratory experiments, through controlled semi-field experiments, to observations in wild field populations of parasite dynamics. Modelling work will use the classic Susceptible-Infected modelling framework for parasite epidemiology to explore, explain, and predict the empirical data.
The results of the project will provide a detailed insight into how social networks impact disease epidemics, and specifically how these occur in bumblebees. In addition to its scientific impact, it will feed into policy and management of pollinators in the UK, and globally.
The studentship will be supervised by Professor Mark Brown (RHUL), an expert in bumblebees and their parasites, Professor Matthew Fisher (Imperial), an expert in the epidemiology of emerging diseases, and Professor Vincent Jansen, an expert in the mathematical modelling of disease. Together, they will train the successful student in the background knowledge, methodological techniques, and theoretical skills needed for the project.
The successful candidate will have achieved a 1st class honours degree, and possibly a Masters degree, in a relevant subject. You will be enthused about pollinators, parasites, and epidemiology, and eager to learn and discover more about all three. You will join a vibrant research group, and be part of the broader Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour within the School of Biological Sciences.
For information contact: Mark.Brown@rhul.ac.uk
Intracellular communication and the control of chloroplast development
Supervisor 1: Dr. Enrique López-Juez, RHUL
Supervisor 2: Prof. Peter Nixon, Imperial College London
Plant biology has arguably never been as relevant as it is today. The biology of chloroplasts underpins the biology of whole plants, and the two most-important impacts of plants for humanity: as food source and as carbon sink1. Yet a surprising number of aspects of chloroplast biology remain poorly understood.
Chloroplast development is under the control of the plant cell’s nucleus. It is also subject to inter-organellar, chloroplast-to-nucleus communication2. Genetics has begun to help understand such communication, by identifying “genome uncoupled” (gun) mutants. Such mutants have shown that an aspect of the metabolism of tetrapyrroles (chlorophylls and haem) plays a role in either suppressing chloroplast development when chloroplasts are faulty, or promoting it when they are functional. They have also identified a chloroplast nucleic acid-associated protein (GUN1) important for signalling to the nucleus. No cytoplasmic or nuclear component has been identified. In animal cells master regulators of mitochondrial development have been uncovered in the last 15 years, yet those for chloroplast development in the nucleus of plant cells, evidence of whose existence has existed for some time, remain to be found2.
Building on earlier work3, we have devised two novel genetic screens targeting
(a) downstream regulators of plastid-to-nucleus communication
(b) positive nuclear regulators of chloroplast development
Our aim is to carry out both of these genetic screens at the Royal Holloway (RHUL) laboratory3. In both cases, albeit through different methods, we will be able to identify mutated genes of interest in the course of the project. We will then aim at understanding their mode of action. For mutant screen (a) this will depend on the nature of the component identified, and will likely involve biochemistry at the Imperial College (IC) laboratory, and for both (a) and (b), a combination of genetics, cell biology, quantitative microscopy and molecular biology at RHUL and IC. The outcomes of both mutant screens will be examined for biotechnological potential at IC4.
For information contact: E.Lopez@rhul.ac.uk
Describing bee foraging patterns by eavesdropping on the waggle dance
Supervisor 1: Vincent Jansen, RHUL
Supervisor 2: Elli Leadbeater, RHUL
Supervisor 3: Richard Gill, Imperial College London
Bees pollinate of over 75% of our crop species. Therefore understanding how bees move across the landscape and whether we can cue into these patterns is important to food security. Honeybees are very important crop pollinators and workers use the waggle dance to communicate resources which we can observe and cue into.
When looking for new food sources bees need to search efficiently. To do so they need to avoid searching areas multiple times. This would dictate that they should not search randomly, but should attempt to search and forage at various scales. On the other hand, as nectar and pollen is found it will need to be transported back to the hive; food that is located far away is more costly to bring back. We therefore expect that food sources that are located further away are less desirable. Honey bee foraging pattern are a balance between optimising coverage and minimising transport costs.
In this project we will develop models to investigate and describe foraging patterns, and then use statistical methods to find out which models describe the bees behaviour best. One question that we would like to study is to what degree bees’ foraging behaviour can be described as scale free. Initially, the project will develop a statistical methodology using recorded waggle dance data to analyse foraging patterns in different locations, capitalizing upon our existing extensive network of beekeepers across London and the Home Counties. Additional questions can be addressed, and experimental manipulations carried out if needed, using the observation hives at Royal Holloway or at other locations.
The observation of waggle dances allows to glean information about foraging location in the bees’ “own words”, and to study how the hive “chooses” to allocate its workforce through recruitment. This lends itself to studying wider questions around bee behaviour about how information is passed on between bees, potentially using social network analysis to understand how this changes with environmental circumstances.
For information contact: Vincent.Jansen@rhul.ac.uk
Metabolic costs of learning and memory in a key pollinator
Supervisor 1: Elli Leadbeater
Supervisor 2: Steve Portugal
Supervisor 3: Samraat Pawar Faculty of Natural Sciences, Department of Life Sciences (Silwood Park), Imperial College
The bumblebee Bombus terrestris is a key UK pollinator that relies upon sophisticated cognitive abilities to efficiently exploit a complex floral landscape. Impairment of cognitive function has been put forward as a mechanism that may underlie well-documented negative effects of pesticides on bees, but the key supporting data are currently missing. This is because we know almost nothing about how cognitive abilities impact upon fitness in bees. Current work in my research group aims to close this knowledge gap, and this project will contribute by assaying the mechanistic costs of cognitive investment.
The brain of an adult bee is developmentally plastic, and it has recently become apparent that repeated exposure to complex learning tasks brings about increased neural density in the mushroom bodies (a neural region associated with learning and memory in insects). Thus, it is possible to manipulate cognitive investment by manipulating learning experience across individuals. We have developed a radial arm maze (RAM) protocol, whereby individuals must remember which of the multiple maze arms available have already been visited within a trial, for use in bees. Repeated task exposure places considerable demands on working memory and should thus lead to cognitive investment. We will assay the costs of that investment, by comparing groups of bees that experience repeated training in the RAM with controls that (a) also forage in the RAM but are not required to use memory to find food (b) never forage in the RAM. For each group, we will assay:
(a) Basal metabolic rate. Neural tissue is energetically expensive to maintain, so we predict that repeated experience of a cognitively demanding task will lead to an increase in basal metabolic rate.
(b) Immune response. Cognitive investment may trade-off against other fitness-determining traits, so we predict lower response to immune challenge in the experimental group.
(c) Life-history variables. Either of the above mechanisms (increased energetic costs of neural tissue, or reduced immune function) should lead to differential mortality between experimental and control groups. We will assay intrinsic (lab-based) and extrinsic (field-based) mortality.
These three questions form the core basis for the project. In the final year, the student will be encouraged to pursue questions that arise from the results according to their specific interests, which may include identification of genes associated with cognitive investment through brain gene expression profiling of control and experimental bees.
For information contact: Elli.Leadbeater@rhul.ac.uk
DNA damage signalling protects plants against a broad range of environmental stresses
Supervisor 1 Prof Laszlo Bogre, RHUL
Supervisor 2 Dr Jie Song, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London
Supervisor 3 Dr Ian Henderson, Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge
How plant growth is adapted to environmental conditions is a fundamental biological question and is of central importance for crops and sustainable agriculture. A picture is arising that the DNA damage signalling pathway has a broader role than repair processes and also involved in growth adaptation to a variety of biotic and abiotic stresses. We have recently discovered that in parallel to the canonical DNA damage signalling pathway to the transcription factor, SOG1, the RETINOBLASTOMA RELATED (RBR) together with the E2F transcription factors play important transcriptional and non-transcriptional roles to connect DNA damage and stress signals to chromatin-mediated responses . We also have discovered that RBR and E2F are part of large evolutionary conserved protein complexes called DREAM to recruit chromatin and DNA modifying proteins [2-4]. Within this project we will investigate how and where on chromosomes these RBR complexes become recruited in a DNA damage response pathway regulated manner. We will also aim to discover the chromatin landscape created by these complexes and how these modifications contribute to the adaptation of plants to environmental changes.
1. Horvath, B.M., et al., Arabidopsis RETINOBLASTOMA RELATED directly regulates DNA damage responses through functions beyond cell cycle control. EMBO J, 2017. 36(9): p. 1261-1278.
2. Magyar, Z., L. Bogre, and M. Ito, DREAMs make plant cells to cycle or to become quiescent. Curr Opin Plant Biol, 2016. 34: p. 100-106.
3. Kobayashi, K., et al., MYB3Rs, plant homologs of Myb oncoproteins, control cell cycle-regulated transcription and form DREAM-like complexes. Transcription, 2015. 6(5): p. 106-11.
4. Kobayashi, K., et al., Transcriptional repression by MYB3R proteins regulates plant organ growth. EMBO J, 2015. 34(15): p. 1992-2007.
For information contact: L.Bogre@rhul.ac.uk