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Hager Lab


Undergraduate Projects

Undergraduate projects for 2017/18 are not available anymore.

MRes and MPhil projects

I offer several Masters projects each year. Both MRes and MPhil are 1 year degrees. While in the MRes you conduct two separate projects in different labs as an MPhil student you will do one large research project. Projects may be entirely computational focusing on genetic mapping and systems-genetics analysis of behavioural traits, or may involve behavioural studies in rodents or insects in the context of my research interests outlined under ‘Research’. Students are welcome to suggest their own projects.

PhD projects

PhD projects are available for self-funded applicants as well as for candidates wishing to apply for studentships (these cover your fees and pay a stipend). I will enter suitably qualified PhD candidates from the EU into the annual competition for research council studentships. You may suggest your own research ideas or you may apply for any of the below projects. Candidates should contact me by November at the latest to enter the competition for studentships commencing the following October. Self-funded students may begin at any time.

PhD projects available

The effects of changing environments on phenotypic plasticity and epigenetics

Phenotypic plasticity is a fundamental principle in evolutionary biology and refers to the ability of a given organism to produce different phenotypes in changing environments. Plasticity has evolved because it is adaptive through optimizing the trajectory of development given current and anticipated future environments, thus increasing individual fitness.

While the existence of plasticity has been demonstrated in a variety of organisms, we lack explicit tests of predictions of whether and how plasticity is adaptive given current and future conditions. Further, we know very little about the mechanism underlying plastic responses to changing environmental conditions but predict that epigenetic changes play a key role.

This project seeks to establish the fitness and developmental consequences of plasticity under changing conditions of the dietary and habitat environment and search for correlated responses in the epigenome. We will test predictions about the effects of poor versus good conditions in early and adult environment on development and fitness in a social cockroach species. We next wish to investigate how responses to changing environments are manifest at the epigenome level by analysing patterns of global methylation changes. Thus, the project tackles the key question of how rapidly changing environments impact on future development and offers a great opportunity to work on phenotypic plasticity and epigenetics testing key hypothesis in behavioural and evolutionary ecology.

Genotype and epigenetic effects on development and behaviour using animal models of human social disorders and systems-genetics approaches.

A fundamental question in the study of human social behaviour is the degree to which specific genes predispose individuals to develop a certain (disease) phenotype and how genetic predisposition interacts with environmental factors to cause disease traits. Moreover, it remains often unclear how, at the molecular level, environmental factors effect changes in complex phenotypes such as behaviour. To understand the role of genes and the environment in social behaviour, this project will utilise mouse models of the human disorder Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS), which is characterized by a set of behavioural, social and anatomical phenotypes.

This project combines empirical work on knock-out mice recording social and developmental phenotypes with a systems-analysis of known WBS genes and QTL loci associated with social behaviours to establish the genetic and phenotypic networks these genes are involved in. Further, we seek to identify potential regulatory genes and the pathways through which these genes have their effect on the disease phenotype. Further, we plan to explore what the changes are at the epigenotype level induced by differences in social environment using methylation analysis. To draw the link back to more complex behavioural phenotypes this project will investigate how ultrasound communication is affected and whether this is reflected in social and behavioural disease phenotypes. Overall, this project will link gene effects through intermediate phenotypes (methylation, gene expression) to complex phenotypes (behaviour) and thus promises to yield a comprehensive understanding of how disease phenotypes arise as a consequence of gene – environment interaction.

The project requires an enthusiastic candidate able to work across disciplines with an interest in empirical, statistical and genetics work.

Apply online.

Systems-genetics analysis of indirect genetic effects on development and behaviour.

This largely computational project will develop systems-genetics approaches to understand indirect genetic effects, i.e. effects of genes expressed in other individuals on a focal phenotype. The aim is to establish networks of lower-order phenotypes (e.g. physiological traits) that together affect individual fitness. You will use sequence and RNA ?seq data as well as behavioural and developmental phenotypes in the largest genetic references system in mammals, BXD mice to identify candidate genes and networks of traits that are characteristic of complex traits.

Postdoctoral positions

There are currently no open positions. Open postdoctoral positions will be advertised on, in Nature, Science or the New Scientist. However, if your research interests overlap and could benefit from the research and expertise in our group I am happy to discuss and support projects that will be submitted as standard research grant application with the postdoc as Named Researcher to any of the research councils (e.g. NERC, BBSRC). The faculty offers one of the best facilities in the country and is the largest in life sciences in Europe. Hence, there are great opportunities to propose projects spanning several disciplines.

Independent Fellowships

The Faculty offers an attractive new fellowship scheme for independent Research Fellows with substantive external funding to join the Faculty of Life Sciences as Principal Investigators. Your project may be linked to existing groups and I welcome expression of interests from potential candidates.

Please see: Independent research fellows call on the Faculty site for details.