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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Genomic bases of a recurrent major evolutionary transition in social behaviour

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 150 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.

Our lab has strong ties to additional groups within Queen Mary, and with other UK and international institutions.  We are a dynamic and supportive team of ~10 interdisciplinary researchers. We value rigor, open source, reproducibility and fun. Check - please reach out to any lab member for an informal conversation.

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.

We believe strongly in learning by doing, and have a pragmatic view of the types of experience and “CV building” needed for interdisciplinary scientific careers. The student will receive extensive training in big data science, bioinformatics, phylogenomics, data visualisation, and experimental research approaches in evolution and genomics. They will receive hands-on training in interdisciplinary project management, communicating science in writing and verbally, including by presenting at lab and departmental meetings and at conferences.

Project description

Social animals exhibit a broad range of behaviors, and some theoretical understanding exists of the tradeoffs between different forms of social organisation. However, we know little about the the genes and processes underpinning social organisation or how it evolves. The diversity of social behaviors across the 20,000 species of ants represents a unique opportunity to empirically understand the mechanisms and tradeoffs involved in social change.

Here, we will harness the power of the biological replication in the evolution of multiple-queen ant colonies, novel phylogenomic, big data and machine learning analysis approaches and the recently availability of genomes from hundreds of species of ants. The student will use highly molecular approaches, including genomics and bioinformatics but also potentially behavioural or field work to address major questions about social evolution.

The resulting work will generate exciting new insights into genes and processes underpinning major social transition, with implications on our general understanding of the evolution of complex phenotypes.


This studentship is open to Mexican students applying for CONACyT funding. CONACyT will provide a contribution towards your tuition fees each year and Queen Mary will waive the remaining fee. CONACyT will pay a stipend towards living costs to its scholars.

Eligibility and applying

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. A masters degree is desirable, but not essential. The candidate should have a exceptional background in biology and the appropriate statistical and programming skills necessary for doing research.

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

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 CONACyT 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 CONACyT for the scholarship as per their requirements and deadlines, with the support of the project supervisor.

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

Apply Online


  • Genomic architecture and evolutionary antagonism drive allelic expression bias in the social supergene of red fire ants. eLife (2020) 9:e55862
  • Degenerative expansion of a young supergene. Molecular Biology and Evolution (2019)
  • Genes and genomic processes underpinning the social lives of ants. Current Opinion in Insect Science (2018), 25:83-90.
  • Genomic signatures of recent adaptation in a wild bumblebee. BioRxiv
  • A Y-like social chromosome causes alternative colony organization in fire ants  Nature (2013) 493:664-8
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