The role of 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 hypothesized 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.


This project will use aphids and their symbiotic bacteria as a model for understanding how microbial symbioses evolve in eukaryotes, and what role symbionts play in insect adaptation and evolution. The exact details of the project will be based on the student’s interest, and may include studies of the role of symbiosis in host adaptation to ecological niches, host and symbiont genome coevolution, host-microbe molecular interactions and evolutionary transitions to permanent symbiotic relationships.

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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