Hugh Carter

Hugh Carter

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Hugh Carter

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Start Year

2018 (Cohort 5)

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PhD Project
PhD Title

The Genetic Architecture of Colour and the Evolution of Marine Colour Polymorphisms

Research Theme

Evolution and Adaptation

Primary Supervisor
Primary Institution


Secondary Supervisor
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Colour in the animal kingdom is widely used for a variety of purposes and in some instances, may also act as a direct phenotypic indicator of underlying genetic control, providing a model for the exploration of fundamental evolutionary processes. To date, the role of colour in the marine realm has been poorly studied. Furthermore, colour pigments in marine organisms have rarely been characterised and very little is known about the molecular control of colour synthesis in marine invertebrates. As almost 70% of the Earth’s surface is water, and more than 80% of animal phyla are exclusively aquatic, this represents a major gap in our understanding of the natural world.

One exception to this rule is the tropical seastar Linckia laevigata, a common species that exists as a variety of colour morphs. The pigments responsible for the deep royal blue colouration of the most striking colour morph are known, and the entire colour gene has been sequenced. L.laevigata therefore provides a unique model for the basis of studies of marine colour.

This PhD will initially focus on establishing whether colour variation in L.laevigata is dependent on protein variation and so heritable. It will also encompass colour variation throughout the echinoderms and use gene insertion techniques to study the role of the gene in vivo. In addition, I aim to reconstruct a new phylogeny of the Asteroidea as there is currently little consensus as to the relationships within the group.

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