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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

The role of beneficial microbes in insect adaptation


It is only in the last few years that we have begun to uncover the full importance of microbial symbionts for their hosts, and the diverse nature of their benefits: in insects for example, they range from protection from natural enemies to assisting in plant feeding and even resistance to insecticides. More fundamentally these beneficial microbes may represent a novel evolutionary resource – a ‘horizontal gene pool’, a reservoir of adaptations that insects can draw from when they adapt to new environments. If this interpretation is accurate, it would have important implications for the sharing of adaptive traits between species that could allow for rapid evolution to new environments.

  • In this project you would rigorously test this interpretation using aphids and their symbionts as a model.
  • You would have access to a large genetic database, field collections and in-house live organisms to fuel your investigation
  • You would gain experience of experimental manipulations, molecular techniques, bioinformatics, and statistics (e.g. GLMM, comparative phylogenetics).
  • You will be encouraged to develop your own ideas and hypotheses

Eligibility requirements

Applications are invited from candidates with, or expecting to be awarded, at least an upper-second class bachelors degree (or equivalent qualification) in biological sciences (or similar). International students are required to provide evidence of their proficiency in English language skills. Applicants from outside of the UK are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our entry requirements page for details:

In a multidisciplinary project like this, candidates are unlikely to have a background in all disciplines involved.  The most important qualification is motivation and that the project appeals to you. We can envisage strong candidates coming through a variety of routes including:

  • practical molecular biology
  • evolutionary theory
  • biological statistics

The applicant must obtain an external source of funding.


Please complete an online application form via the following link:

If your application is successful a conditional offer dependant of obtaining external funding will be made and Dr Henry will support you with in your application for funding.

For informal requests, do not hesitate to contact me at


This project is open to applicants intending to apply for external funding (e.g. China Scholarship Council, CONACYT, Commonwealth Scholarships). Please see our Fees and Funding page for details of Queen Mary's international funding partners.

If you intend to apply for China Scholarship Council funding, the deadline to apply to Queen Mary is 12th January 2020.


  • Henry LM, Peccoud J, Simon J-C, Hadfield J, Maiden MC, Ferrari J and Godfray HCJ (2013). Horizontally transmitted symbionts and host colonization of ecological niches. Current Biology. 23:1713-1717.
  • Lukasik P, Guo H, van Asch M, Henry LM, Godfray HCJ and Ferrari J (2015) Horizontal transfer of beneficial symbionts is limited by host relatedness. Evolution 69:2757-2766
  • Henry LM, Maiden MJC, Ferrari J and Godfray HCJ (2015). Insect life history and the evolution of bacterial mutualism. Ecology Letters 18:516-25
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