Skip to main content
School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Epigenetic basis of nutrition-mediated development in the honeybee

We are seeking applicants for the following PhD opportunity. The successful applicant will join a student cohort in Environment, Biodiversity and Genomics, training together, following an exciting programme designed to inspire the next generation of environmental experts, managers and leaders. They will be equipped to address some of the toughest challenges of our time.

Research environment

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 160 PhD students working on projects in the biological and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.

The Hurd lab employs functional epigenomics as a successful research theme; integrating molecular biology, biochemistry, proteomics and genomic approaches in honey bees in an effort to understand the epigenetic basis for gene-environment interactions during organismal development.

Our research is focussed on the honey bee as an emerging model organism for epigenetics and we study how nutrition dictates the capacity of the honey bee genome to produce three phenotypically distinct organisms. Currently consisting of 2 postdoctoral researchers and 1 PhD student, the Hurd Lab is funded by UK national funding bodies (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) and the European Commission through EASI-Genomics.

Training and development

Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

In addition, the Hurd lab is a founding member and core group of the QMUL Epigenetics Hub. This provides considerable added value and experience for the training of the student. Joint lab meetings are held and attended by all groups, providing a very knowledgeable, stimulating, varied and dynamic environment. The student will be expected to give a seminar on their work every four months, which will not only develop their presentation skills but will provide an advisory group of fourteen other group leaders.

Project description

The honey bee is an important model organism for understanding epigenetic mechanisms. The honey bee genome encodes three phenotypically distinct but genetically indistinguishable organisms/castes (queens, workers and drones) that are determined during early post-embryonic development by differential nutrition. The molecular mechanisms responsible for this differential development are unknown but through previous funding, we were the first to demonstrate that queen and worker honey bees have caste-specific chromatin epigenetic states that establish and orchestrate the distinct patterns of gene expression that determine developmental trajectory.

Building on this work, the PhD project will examine the role of specific nutritional components as epigenetic modulators of phenotypic plasticity during development using our well-established in vitro honey bee rearing techniques. The student will be trained in state-of-the-art molecular techniques for epigenomics (ATAC-seq, ChIP-seq, CUT&RUN, CUT&TAG, RNA-seq), biochemistry (chromatin biology, recombinant protein techniques) and apiculture (general beekeeping, queen rearing, in vitro bee rearing).

You will not only get hands on experimental approaches but also develop proficiency in computational and statistical analyses of large genomic datasets. The aim of this multidisciplinary PhD project is to exploit the unique opportunities of the honey bee system to understand how an environmental cue (nutrition) shapes phenotype through epigenetic mechanisms in an economically and ecologically important organism.


This studentship is open to students applying for China Scholarship Council funding. Queen Mary University of London has partnered with the China Scholarship Council (CSC) to offer a joint scholarship programme to enable Chinese students to study for a PhD programme at Queen Mary. Under the scheme, Queen Mary will provide scholarships to cover all tuition fees, whilst the CSC will provide living expenses for 4 years and one return flight ticket to successful applicants. 

Eligibility and applying

Applicants must:

  • Be Chinese students with a strong academic background.
  • Students must hold a PR Chinese passport.
  • Applicants can either be resident in China at the time of application or studying overseas. 
  • Students with prior experience of studying overseas (including in the UK) are eligible to apply. Chinese QMUL graduates/Masters’ students are therefore eligible for the scheme.

Please refer to the CSC website for full details on eligibility and conditions on the scholarship.

Applications are invited from outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree in an area relevant to the project such as: molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, developmental and cell biology. Some previous computational experience would be an advantage. A masters degree is desirable, but not essential.

Applicants are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details.

The deadline for applications to Queen Mary is 30th January 2022. Applicants will need to complete an online application form by this date to be considered, including a CV, personal statement and qualifications. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for a formal interview by the project supervisor. Those who are successful in their application for our PhD programme will be issued with an offer letter which is conditional on securing a CSC scholarship (as well as any academic conditions still required to meet our entry requirements).

Once applicants have obtained their offer letter from Queen Mary they should then apply to CSC for the scholarship by the advertised deadline with the support of the project supervisor. For September 2022 entry, applicants must complete the CSC application on the CSC website between 10th March - 31st March 2022.

Only applicants who are successful in their application to CSC can be issued an unconditional offer and enrol on our PhD programme.

Apply Online


  • Wojciechowski, M., Lowe, R., Maleszka, J., Conn, D., Maleszka, R. & Hurd, P. J. (2018) Phenotypically distinct female castes in honey bees are defined by alternative chromatin states during larval development. Genome Research 28, 1532-1542.     
  • Dickman, M. J., Kucharski, R., Maleszka, R. & Hurd, P. J. (2013) Extensive histone post-translational modification in the honey bee. Insect Biochemistry & Molecular Biology 43, 125-137.                                                    
  • Hurd, P. J., Grübel, C., Wojciechowski, M., Maleszka, R. and Rössler, W. (2021) A novel structure in the nuclei of Kenyon cells in honey bee brain revealed by immunostaining. Scientific Reports 11, 6852.
Back to top