PHD Project

November 9, 2020

The ecological and evolutionary significance of functional variation in mitochondria in a wild animal

The ecological and evolutionary significance of functional variation in mitochondria in a wild animal

In this multidisciplinary, international project you will address novel and exciting questions about the ecological and evolutionary consequences of mitochondrial variation in wild animals. You will combine ecological fieldwork, fish-keeping and behavioural experiments with cutting-edge bioinformatics and physiological assays to examine differences between three-spined stickleback fish with different mitochondrial genetics. Ecological fieldwork will take place in the Scottish Outer Hebrides, and there will be opportunities for visits to collaborating labs in Germany and Canada.

Mitochondria, the powerhouse of complex life, are present in all cells of eukaryotes. They are unusual because they carry a complement of their own DNA, separate from the nucleus, which is inherited maternally. For many years it has been believed that the substantial variation in mitochondrial DNA between populations is neutral. More recently, in stark contrast, it has been suggested that mitochondrial variation may be fundamentally important for adaptation to environmental change, given that mitochondria contain perhaps the most critically important machinery of complex life, which converts nutrients into available energy. However, we know almost nothing about the functional consequences of mitochondrial variation in wild organisms, or its ecological and evolutionary significance.

The project will be based in the MacColl lab,, a friendly, dynamic and well-funded group, embedded in a wider cohesive group of ecologists and evolutionary biologists

Further reading

Barreto, F.S. et al. (2018) Genomic signatures of mitonuclear coevolution across populations of Tigriopus californicus. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2: 1250-7.

Dean, L.L. et al. (2019) Admixture between ancient lineages, selection, and the formation of sympatric stickleback species-pairs, Mol. Biol. Evol., 36:2481–2497.

Greenway et al. (2020) Convergent evolution of conserved mitochondrial pathways underlies repeated adaptation to extreme environments. PNAS, 117: 16424-16430.

Hill, G.E. (2015) Mitonuclear Ecology. Mol. Biol. Evol., 32: 1917-1927.

Lane, N. (2016) The Vital Question. Profile Books.


Applicants should have an interest in evolutionary biology, ecology, genetics, physiology and/or behaviour. They should hold a minimum of a UK Honours degree at 2.1 or equivalent in a biological or environmental subject. Candidates with additional (e.g. Masters) qualifications will be looked on favourably. A driving licence, experience of remote fieldwork and SCUBA/snorkelling would be valuable.


For further details please contact Andrew MacColl,