lundi 7 février 2011

PhD in Evolutionary Theory and Disease

This PhD will investigate evolutionary aspects of disease. Many diseases have at their root a failure of one level of biological complexity to exert sufficient control over a lower level; examples include cancer (failure of the body to control replication of cell-lines) and certain genetics disorders such as Down's syndrome (failure to ensure fair chromosomal segregation during gamete formation). Still other diseases are caused by pathogens that must cooperate in order to achieve and sustain the infection of a host; one well-known example of this is acquired antibiotic resistance in some bacterial strains. Over the past 50 years theory to describe the evolution of social behaviour between genetic relatives, and across multiple levels, has been developed. The theory, however, is typically abstract, and aims to determine conditions under which altruism will or will not succeed due to natural selection. The challenge of this project will be to translate such theory and consider its potential application to understanding diseases. New theory on evolution in finite populations may also need to be applied or developed.

This project is deliberately underspecified, and the successful candidate will be an exceptional individual, who will have great freedom to pursue directions that interest them and seek out novel research collaborations. They will have a background in a numerate discipline such as mathematics, computer science, or physics, ideally with some knowledge of probability, statistics and stochastic modelling. A demonstrated interest in biology and medicine is a definite advantage. They will become part of the newly established Behavioural and Evolutionary Theory Lab at the University of Sheffield, Department of Computer Science, under the direction of Dr James Marshall.

About the Behavioural and Evolutionary Theory Lab
The Behavioural and Evolutionary Theory Lab is an interdisciplinary collection of individuals interested in how and why behaviours evolve. We are interested in behaviours and behavioural mechanisms, and their evolutionary function. We apply a range of theoretical approaches, from mathematics and statistics, decision theory, computer science, and physics. Particular topics of interest are currently the evolution of social behaviour, such as altruism and cooperation, and optimal decision-making mechanisms in groups, such as social insects, and in individuals. The Lab is part of the Department of Computer Science, University of Sheffield, and is physically based in the interdisciplinary Kroto Research Institute.

Applications are invited from UK home students and EU citizens. Fees and a stipend will be paid for the duration of the studentship. Apply online or contact Dr Marshall if you require further information. Closing date: Feb 27th.

[1] Burt, A. and Trivers, R. (2006) Genes in Conflict: the Biology of Selfish Genetic Elements. Harvard University Press.
[2] Foster, K.R. (2005) Hamiltonian medicine: why the social lives of pathogens matter. 308, 1269-1270.
[3] Merlo et al. (2006) Cancer as an evolutionary and ecological process. Nature Reviews Cancer 6, 924-935.
[4] Okasha, S. (2006) Evolution and the Levels of Selection. Oxford University Press.