Convergent genome evolution in the conquest of land by animals

A millipede

A flat-backed millipede (Polydesmus angustus), image Shutterstock/Alexwilko

This project uses the latest genomic approaches and comparative methods to disentangle the multiple transitions from water to land in animals.

The colonisation of land by life is one of the major evolutionary transitions in the history of the planet and dramatically shaped modern terrestrial ecosystems. Despite its key ecological and evolutionary importance, the genetic and cellular basis of terrestrialisation and its timing(s) are not well understood.

This project brings together a team of expert zoologists, palaeontologists, genome biologists and developmental biologists. Our main objective is to apply an integrative approach based on the “from genes to ecosystems” framework to understand the genetic and cellular basis, as well as the environmental factor underpinning the adaptation of animal life on land. We will use the latest genomic approaches and comparative methods to disentangle the multiple transitions from water to land in animals.

Following the 'from genes to ecosystems' integrative philosophy, our specific objectives are to identify the genome-wide gene changes, their biological functions, and their mode of evolution (gene gains, losses, horizontal genetic transfer, etc) during terrestrialisation events, and reconstruct a precise timescale of the transitions to land to identify the speed of these transitions as well as their eco-environmental contexts.

The student will apply an evolutionary genomics pipeline developed in the host lab at Bristol to infer the node of origin of a gene family. The biological function of genes of interest (e.g. gained during terrestrialisation) will be interrogated with Gene Ontology analyses.

For molecular dating, the gene family members will be aligned with MAFFT, ambiguous regions will be trimmed with BMGE, and trees will be inferred with Phylobayes. Molecular dating of the trees, using fossils and geological events to define soft minimum and maximum constraints, will be done with MCMCTree within PAML.

Environmental conditions for the different dates will be mined from the literature. The student will contribute to the execution of these analyses and the overall design of the project, bringing in their own ideas and inform the research direction.

The student will be Bristol-based but will come to the NHM regularly to discuss calibrations, morphological character evolution, incorporation of morphological data into analyses, and environments with Greg Edgecombe and (to a lesser extent) other relevant NHM experts.

Apply for this course

Application deadline: 10 January 2022


The Natural History Museum

Dr Greg Edgecombe

University of Bristol

Dr Jordi Paps

Prof Davide Pisani

Prof Phil Donoghue

Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships between the Natural History Museum and the Great Western Four, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities.

Funded by