Applying social evolution theory to the selection and improvement of pathogenic fungi for the control of multi-resistant aphids - Biosciences, PhD (Funded) Ref: 3102

About the award

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences, in partnership with the University of Warwick, is inviting applications for a fully-funded ADHB PhD studentship to commence in October 2018 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £14,553 for 3 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.  The student would be based in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Penryn campus in Cornwall.


Biosciences, Penryn Campus, Cornwall

Academic Supervisors:

Dr Ben Raymond  University of Exeter
Professor Chris Bass, University of Exeter
Dr Dave Chandler, University of Warwick.

Project Description:

Theories of cooperation, originally shaped for exploring behavioural ecology, have led to a revolution in our understanding of microbial virulence in recent years 1. This theory has emphasized the potential conflict between group level benefits from investment in virulence factors and individual level selection for cheating / rapid replication. Work in the Raymond lab has sought to understand whether social evolution theory can help understand the evolution of virulence of biological control agents 2,3. We have developed and tested social theory in multiple insect / parasite systems and demonstrated the predictive power of this theory 4.  In particular, recent work has shown that we can achieve order of magnitude gains in pathogen virulence by using novel selection techniques based on concepts in social evolution.

In this studentship, we wish to explore the value of these ideas in an important applied context- the improvement of fungal pathogens for the control of Aphid pests. Aphids, in particular Myzus persicae the peach-potato aphid, have evolved widespread resistance to chemical insecticides and future control is threatened by the arrival of multi-resistant clones from the European continent.   While microbial biocontrol agents are widely used in other pests, the generalist pathogenic fungi available for aphid management only have moderate killing power. In this project the student will run artificial selection experiments aimed at improving the biocontrol characteristics of pathogenic fungi and will explore how the use of fungi could reduce the fitness of pesticide resistant clones.   Aphids offer a tractable study system in which we can study how adaptation of fungi to one host genotype affects infectivity and virulence in other host genotypes, an issue with both fundamental and applied importance. This project will benefit from access to a diverse panel of aphid clones that have been fully sequenced, and that can be used to investigate the association between pathogen susceptibility and particular resistance genotypes.  It will also benefit from the collaborative involvement of Koppert, a leading biocontrol manufacturer.  This studentship offers the opportunity to work in leading evolutionary ecology and molecular biology laboratories on a novel application of fundamental theory and would suit applicants with interests in entomology, microbiology or evolutionary biology.

(1) S West et al. (2007) Annu Rev Ecol Syst 38, 53.
(2) L Zhou et al. (2014) Curr Biol 24, 2417.
(3) B Raymond et al. (2012) Science 337, 85.
(4) D Shapiro-Ilan, B Raymond (2016) Evol Appl 9, 462.

Research environment. 

The Penryn campus is situated in the west of England in an area of outstanding natural beauty.  We have newly built, well-equipped microbiology laboratories and insect rearing facilities.  The Raymond and Bass groups are funded by the BBSRC, the EU, the ERC, ADHB and the Leverhulme Trust on topics that include biocontrol improvement, experimental evolution and the evolution of resistance to pesticides (see  &

Funding notes. 

This a funded PhD studentship, supported by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (ADHB), awarded to the supervisory team, which covers tuition fees for EU & UK students, plus a stipend of £14,553 and research costs for three years.  Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend. 

The project will commence in October 2018.

Entry requirements: Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology.  Experience or evidence of interest one of the following is highly desirable: entomology, evolutionary biology and microbiology.

If English is not your first language you will need to have achieved at least 6.5 in IELTS and no less than 6.0 in any section by the start of the project.  Alternative tests may be acceptable (see


Application deadline:30th April 2018
Value:£14,777 for 3 years
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Postgraduate Research

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 

• CV
• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
• Names of two referees familiar with your academic work.
• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English

The closing date for applications is midnight on 30th April 2018.  Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Penryn Campus in late May..

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone +44 (0)1392 722730.  Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor or to Professor Chris Bass (