Project Description

A full project description can be found on Find a PhD. Please see below for additional information about this project:

Data will be collected from experiments in the fly lab of Dr Juliano Morimoto and any molecular work will be done in the lab of Dr Davina Derous at the University of Aberdeen. Eggs will be collected from stock populations of Drosophila melanogaster, and larvae will then be allocated to either low, medium or high-density groups and fed different diets. Resulting sex-specific life history and behavioural responses will be investigated and analysed, using cutting- edge technology (e.g., Ethoscope). Toxicity levels will be measured using an appropriate kit. Phenotypic markers will be analysed in R using appropriate statistical models and post-hoc tests.

This project will use techniques such as gene and protein expression as well as fluorescence microscopy to assess which biological pathways are altered at the adult stage and how this is related to their phenotype. This project will look at the molecular level and disentangle which components of its metabolism are altered and how this may drive changes in phenotypic state.

In addition, by encouraging the student to present at biweekly lab meetings and other events such as conferences and open days at the university, the student will have the chance to further develop their presentation skills to diverse audiences. The student will receive training in how to format a manuscript for publication, how to write a cover letter and how the submission system works. The student will also be encouraged to respond to peer review comments and will be supervised to peer review a manuscript themselves.
As this is a multi-disciplinary project where we combine developmental ecology with systems physiology, the student will gain experience in working in such a project and will develop very strong skills that will make the student desirable for future job opportunities.

Essential skills

  • The ideal candidate has a keen interest in ecology, insects, physiology and how we can use cutting edge technology to decipher key scientific questions.
  • We will select candidates based on their potential. Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject.
    Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.

Desirable skills

  • Experience in molecular techniques or insect handling. Although we recognise that due to COVID many student will have done a desk only project.

Photo by avocado876 from Pixabay


Davina Derous

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Davina Derous
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Colin McClure

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Colin McClure
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Juliano Morimoto

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Juliano Morimoto
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Expected Training Provision

The student will be trained in any required laboratory techniques (e.g. insect culture, mass spectrometry, behavioural assessment, RNA and protein extraction) and analysis programs/methods (e.g. introduction to R, data visualisation of biological pathways, etc.). The University of Aberdeen provides an excellent array of training opportunities which will be available to the successful candidate (e.g. basic statistics, academic writing, literature searching, presenting your data visually, etc.). The student will also be encouraged to target courses that are important for the personal and professional development. For example, the university offers courses on small group teaching which provides an opportunity for the student to develop their teaching experience in addition to their research skills, and an application to Associate Fellowship of Advanced HE (AFHEA) will be supported to encourage reflective practice. The candidate will be involved in BSc and MSc-research student supervision which will develop their skills as a project manager and independent researcher under guidance of their three supervisors. In addition, other courses such as science communication and time management will also be encouraged, and opportunities for public engagement will be provided with sufficient training. This will ensure that the candidate develops any key skills for future job prospects in either academia, industry or as a stakeholder.


The contribution of this project is two-fold: on academia and stakeholders. It will lead to a greater understanding of how overcrowding impacts larvae development (academia). Any research outputs (e.g. peer-reviewed papers) originating from this project will be of high interest for both national and international academic institutions, and research can be presented by the student at international conferences. We anticipate that this research will receive much attention, as while it is important to researchers investigating the life-history trade-off of Drosophila, it is also influential to scientists identifying how rapid evolutionary adaptions in larvae to new environments can drive potential population expansion of their ecological niche. Both of these research fields are vital for understanding developmental ecology of larvae and the development of pest control strategies.
It will also be important to stakeholders and those in the field of professional pest control, specifically the waste management industry. Over the past decades our waste management has changed drastically with improved environmental impact. However, fruit flies are still a pest and the industry requires more effective management tools to limit their impact. Furthermore, this project will be of interest to the general public as the organisms utilised in these experiments is the commonly known fruit fly. The public’s familiarity provides an opportunity for significant public engagement exercises, and promote the general awareness of food security, waste management, biodiversity, and the importance of biological research more widely.

Proposed Timetable

In the first year, the student will complete the induction process at the University of Aberdeen. During this time, the student will also focus on developing a good understanding of how overcrowding can impact developmental ecology, and other aspects of the project depending on the student’s background. There will be opportunities to engage with courses to strengthen or learn new skills (e.g. statistics and data presentation) to develop the candidate’s repertoire. The student will receive training in the necessary lab skills and will start the various experiments. After 9 months, at the University of Aberdeen, the student will be required to submit a progress report and attend an interview to ensure effective progression through the project. The student will work towards this, gaining an effective understanding of the project’s aims and objectives, and present any relevant preliminary results.

Year 2 will focus on further analysis of the data and integrating preliminary data. The student will target a national-level conference in which to present, and prepare for the second year PhD assessment. In Year 2, the student will also spend time at Queen’s University Belfast to perform behavioural analysis. Towards the end of year 2, the student will finish the necessary molecular assays in the lab.

In year 3, data analysis will be completed whereby the physiological and behavioural traits will be integrated with the results of the molecular assays in the lab. The student will also have the opportunity to attend specific courses related to thesis writing. An international conference will also be targeted to provide network opportunities, and the candidate will present their data at the University’s research day as part of a third year PhD assessment. The last months of the project will be focussed on writing the thesis. During the PhD, the student will be encouraged to write and collaborate on manuscripts for publications and attend public engagement/science communication events.


  • biodiversity
  • environmental-management

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