Understanding chemical warfare in the nest of leafcutter ants (HUTCHINGS_U18DTP2)

University of East Anglia
October 05 2017
Life Sciences, Biology
Position Type
Full Time
Organization Type

All plants and animals are associated with beneficial bacterial communities that we call their microbiomes. Despite recent advances in microbial community analysis however we have a very limited understanding of how a host assembles a beneficial microbiome or the benefits exchanged between the host and symbiotic bacteria.

We address these questions using South American leafcutter ants as a model system. Acromyrmex echinatior ants cut leaves from the rainforest and feed them to a symbiotic fungus that they grow as food. The fungal cultivar is the sole food source for their larvae and without it the colony will die. However, the ants are plagued by a co-evolved fungus called Escovopsis which parasitises the fungal cultivar and cause it, and the whole ant colony, to die. To combat Escovopsis the ants grow antibiotic-producing actinomycete bacteria on the outsides of their bodies. The bacteria make antibacterials that prevent other bacteria from growing on the ants and antifungals which the ants use as weed killers to kill the Escovopsis. This is a great model system because the microbiome is well characterised, external and experimentally tractable.

In this interdisciplinary project you will use cutting edge techniques, including dual RNA-seq, stable isotope probing and mass spectrometry to understand the positive and negative interactions that occur between the ants, their microbiome bacteria and the Escovopsis parasite and to determine which antibiotics the actinomycete bacteria are making to prevent other bacteria from invading their niche. The project will be carried out at UEA and the John Innes Centre and full training will be provided. There will be opportunities to collect Acromyrmex colonies in Gamboa, Panama, attend conferences and do public engagement.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the Norwich Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP). Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed as part of the studentship competition. Candidates will be interviewed on either the 9th, 10th or 11th January 2018.

The Norwich Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NRPDTP) offers postgraduates the opportunity to undertake a 4 year research project whilst enhancing professional development and research skills through a comprehensive training programme. You will join a vibrant community of world-leading researchers. All NRPDTP students undertake a three month professional internship (PIPS) during their study. The internship offers exciting and invaluable work experience designed to enhance professional development. Full support and advice will be provided by our Professional Internship team. Students with, or expecting to attain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply.

For further information and to apply, please visit our website: http://www.biodtp.norwichresearchpark.ac.uk

Funding notes

Full Studentships cover a stipend (RCUK rate: £14,553pa - 2017/8), research costs and tuition fees at UK/EU rate, and are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.

Students from EU countries who do not meet the UK residency requirements may be eligible for a fees-only award. Students in receipt of a fees-only award will be eligible for a maintenance stipend awarded by the NRPDTP Bioscience Doctoral Scholarships, which when combined will equal a full studentship. To be eligible students must meet the EU residency requirements. Details on eligibility for funding on the BBSRC website: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/web/FILES/Guidelines/studentship_eligibility.pdf

This job comes from a partnership with Science Magazine and Euraxess

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