Biosciences: Fully funded Exeter/Swansea PhD Studentship: Novel epigenetic markers

  • Phd
  • Full cost of UK tuition fees and an annual stipend
  • 6 December 2021

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Biosciences: Fully funded Exeter/Swansea (BBSRC SWBio DTP) PhD Studentship: Novel epigenetic markers of embryo quality to improve fish domestication

This studentship is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP).

Start date: October 2022

Subject areas: Biosciences, aquaculture and fisheries, epigenetics, physiology



  • University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, Devon (50%)
  • Swansea University, Singleton Campus, SA2 8PP, Swansea, Wales (50%)

The BBSRC-funded South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP) is led by the University of Bristol, together with the Universities of Bath, Cardiff and Exeter, alongside Rothamsted Research. This partnership also includes the following associate partners; Marine Biological Association (MBA), Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), SETsquared Bristol, Swansea University, UCB Pharma, and University of the West of England (UWE).

These institutions represent a distinctive group of bioscience research staff and students, with established international, national and regional networks, and widely recognised research excellence. As research leaders, we have a strong track record in advancing knowledge through high-quality research and teaching, in partnership with industry and the government.

The aim of this DTP is to produce highly motivated and excellently trained postgraduates in the BBSRC priority areas of ‘Advancing the frontiers of biosciences discovery’, ‘Biosciences for sustainable agriculture and food’, and ‘Biosciences for an integrated understanding of health’. These are growth areas of the biosciences and for which there will be considerable future demand.

Project description:
Aquaculture production is increasing as food security becomes one of the main concerns for a growing population which increasingly requires more fish in their diet.

Successful aquaculture relies in domestication, which in fish is very recent compared to birds and mammals. Fish depend upon their environment to trigger the different steps of their reproductive cycle, particularly oogenesis, affecting both oocyte quality and embryo developmental success. Global epigenetic changes occurring during embryogenesis are also influenced by the rearing environment, and the farm environment is known to cause large phenotypic and epigenetic changes.#

Epigenetic modifications can regulate gene expression without altering the DNA sequence. In mammals there is a reprogramming of DNA methylation during embryogenesis, but in some fishes it seems to be different, although it has only been studied in a few species to date. While in zebrafish DNA methylation does not undergo extensive erasure in embryos immediately after fertilisation, in medaka reprogramming seems to be similar to mammals, and our work suggests that in Atlantic salmon a small proportion of epigenetic changes caused by the rearing environment can be transmitted to the offspring.

These data suggest that it might be possible to manipulate the rearing environment to control fish development and potentially embryo quality through epigenetic modifications, an option still underexplored in aquaculture. Moreover, if the epigenetic changes are passed to the next generation, epigenetic programming could establish an “environmental memory” during development to enhance adaptation to the farm environment and improve domestication. The main aim of this project is to identify epigenetic markers related to embryo quality and development which could be used to develop fish strains better adapted to live in captivity.

For this, the student will develop a multidisciplinary project which will combine an experimental approach with methods on embryology and molecular biology (gene expression and epigenomics) using zebrafish and tilapia to assess the role of temperature changes development in determining embryo quality and its molecular basis. Specific training will be provided in fish husbandry and experimental design as well methods in embryology, DNA/RNA extraction, Next Generation Sequencing and Bioinformatics.


Academic criteria
Applicants for a studentship should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a master’s degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

In addition, due to the strong mathematical component of the taught course in the first year and the quantitative emphasis in our projects, a minimum of a grade B in A-level Maths or an equivalent qualification or experience is required.

We would normally expect the academic and English Language requirements (IELTS 6.5 overall with 6.5 in each component) to be met by point of application. For details on the University’s English Language entry requirements, please visit –

Equivalent qualifications/experience
Physics A-level (grade B and above). Undertaking units as part of your degree that have a significant mathematical component (significant mathematical component examples include; maths, statistics, bioinformatics).

Applicants must ensure they highlight their Maths background within their application and to upload any supporting evidence.

Residence criteria
This studentship is open to students of any nationality. For more information, please check the Residence criteria section.


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A fully funded four-year SWBio DTP studentship will cover:

  • a stipend (at the standard UKRI rate; £15,609 per annum for 2021/22)
  • research and training costs
  • tuition fees (at the standard UKRI rate)
  • additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship


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