Michael OLeary

Michael OLeary

Profile Display Name:

Michael O’Leary

E-mail Address:


Start Year

2020 (Cohort 7)

Research interests:
Hobbies and interests:

PhD Project
PhD Title

Investigating Biological Insurance: Identifying the use of bet-hedging as an evolutionary strategy to adapt to unpredictable and rapidly fluctuating environmental conditions.

Research Theme

Evolution and Adaptation

Primary Supervisor
Primary Institution


Secondary Supervisor
Secondary Institution



There are three known strategies of evolutionary adaptation to environmental change. The first involves adapting directly to changed environmental conditions via natural selection (adaptive tracking), and the second is via evolution of physiological developmental mechanisms that can accommodate detectable or predictable changes (phenotypic plasticity). However, these strategies fail when the environmental change is too rapid or too novel. This is when a population that uses bet-hedging might do better. A bet-hedger will sacrifice short term fitness in its current environmental conditions by producing offspring that are better adapted to possible future environmental conditions. This spreads risk amongst its offspring ensuring that at least some will survive. Bet-hedging maximises geometric mean fitness in unpredictable environments, at the expense of arithmetic mean fitness. Adaptive bet-hedging is well supported by theory but is challenging to demonstrate empirically. We will overcome this by experimentally evolving large populations of fast-growing yeast. Chromosome mis-segregation provides a mechanism for reversible phenotypic switches between toxin-resistant but slow-growing aneuploid offspring and fast growing but toxin-sensitive euploid cells. We will be genetically manipulating chromosome mis-segregation rates and identify long and short-term fitness effects in environments with different regimes of toxin presence/absence fluctuation.

Policy Impact
Background Reading



Social Links
University Departmental Website:

Personal Website:





Stay informed

Click here to subscribe to our RSS newsletter by email.

Find Us

University College London is the administrative lead.

North-West Wing, UCL, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT

Follow us on Twitter