PhD Studentship Ancient Genetics of Rice Resilience to Environmental Stressors

University of Cambridge is offering PhD position in genomics. The funds for this position are available for 5 years. Applications are welcome before January 12, 2020.

We invite applications for a 3-year PhD studentship, funded by the Carlsberg Foundation, to start in April 2020 to work in Prof Eske Willerslev’s Geogenetics Group on the project: ‘Ancient genetics of rice resilience to environmental stressors’.

A student stipend of 15,009 per annum and EU/Home tuition fees will be offered to a successful candidate.

Rice is the staple food for more than half of the world’s population, making it one of the most important crops today and the foreseeable future. The International Rice Research Institute has recently reported that rice production will need to increase by 25 per cent over the next 25 years to meet global demand for the grain. However, current climate change is posing a major challenge to achieving this target. One key strategy to improve the resilience of rice crops to increasing environmental threats is by genetic modification, i.e., introduction of new alleles into existing rice breeds. While the introduction of extant wild type alleles into domesticates is a well-established practice, the use of ‘lost’ alleles from ancient genotypes remains unexplored. This is a major oversight if we consider that rice domestication dates back at least 10,000 years before the present, and that during this time period rice has been exposed to climatic perturbations comparable to those projected for the future. A promising approach for identifying the ‘lost’ alleles is to reconstruct the genomes of ancient breeds and ancient wild types and track their changes in response to varying selection pressures over time.

This project will examine the basis of genetic resilience of rice to environmental perturbations using ancient DNA from fossil pollen. The project will involve state-of-the-art ancient genomic techniques, both for wet lab and computational analysis. You will reconstruct, for the first time, ancient rice genomes from pollen DNA preserved in lake sediment cores and use this data to search for previously unknown genetic variants in rice genome that have been under positive (natural or artificial) selection over the last 10,000 years. You will then compare the identified variants under selection against a series of available environmental records in order to pinpoint those genetic variants that are likely associated with rice persistence to climatic perturbations and pathogen/pest pressure.

Some fieldwork in Asia may be necessary.

Gutaker RM, Groen SC, Bellis ES, Choi JY, Pires IS, Bocinsky RK, et al. Genomic history and ecology of the geographic spread of rice. bioRxiv. 748178 (2019).

Pont C, Wagner S, Kremer A, Orlando L, Plomion C, Salse J. Paleogenomics: reconstruction of plant evolutionary trajectories from modern and ancient DNA. Genome Biol. 20(1):29 (2019).

Parducci L, Jrgensen T, Tollefsrud MM, Elverland E, Alm T, Fontana SL, et al. Glacial Survival of Boreal Trees in Northern Scandinavia. Science. 335:1083-6 (2012).

Potential applicants are encouraged to contact Professor Eske Willerslev ( or Dr Ana Prohaska ( before submitting an application.

Applications should be made on-line via the Cambridge Graduate Admissions Office:

Fixed-term: The funds for this post are available for 3 years.

The University actively supports equality, diversity and inclusion and encourages applications from all sections of society.


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