Symbiosis in the adaptation and diversification of insects

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Lee Henry

School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, QMUL

Lee Henry's Profile Picture
Additional Supervisor(s):

Project Description:

Insects are the most successful and diverse animals on earth, but why? It is their amazing ability to adapt and exploit new ecological niches that has led them to such extreme proliferation. It has been hypothesised that one of the secrets to their success is the relationships they have formed with microorganisms. Symbiotic microbes can provide insects with a staggering array of benefits, such as, provisioning nutrients missing in their hosts’ diets, protecting against natural enemies, buffering against heat stress and even detoxifying pesticides. However, we still know little about how insects use beneficial microbes when adapting to new environments and what role they have played in the evolution of their insect hosts.

The exact details of the project and model system will be based on the student’s interest, but may include:

– Experimental and field ecology – unravel how symbionts help hosts adaptation to ecological niches
– Genomics – Understanding the molecular underpinning of beneficial traits symbionts confer to their hosts.
– Comparative methods – Use across species comparisons to reveal factors responsible for important evolutionary transitions. E.g. transitions to permanent symbioses or what dictates the horizontal transfer of symbiont genes into the host genome.

The student will work closely with the supervisor and other members of the research group.

Policy Impact of Research:

This project will offer insight into the role of beneficial microbes in the adaptation of insects, many of which are serious pests. Knowledge from this project will therefore be used to help develop practical solutions for managing pests in agriculture, forestry and those that vector major human diseases.

The student will learn a wide range of skills including modern molecular and genomics techniques while being part of a productive and supportive research team.


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