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Epigenetics of the germline: how maternal cues get passed to the next generation

Primary Supervisor: Dr Andre Pires da Silva, School of Life Sciences

Secondary supervisor: Dr Jose Gutierrez-Marcos

PhD project title: Epigenetics of the germline: how maternal cues get passed to the next generation

University of Registration: University of Warwick

Project outline:

Recent evidence suggests that environmental signals received by somatic tissues can influence the phenotype of subsequent generations by reprogramming the germline. For example, trauma experienced by the parental generation causes the transmission of psychiatric diseases. The transmission of symptoms seems to be partially caused by changes of gene activity in the gametes of the parents. However, little is known about how it occurs. We will use a simple model system in which environmental signals (pheromones) sensed by sensory neurons are relayed to the germline to make different kinds of offspring. This model, a nematode named Auanema freiburgensis, provides an easy readout for environmental effects in subsequent generations. We will use state-of-the-art genome engineering techniques and bioinformatics tools to map the cells and signalling systems in somatic and germline cells mediating the transmission of neuronal signalling into the next generation. The results of this research will enhance our understanding of how an individual’s experience can impact upon the health of descendants.

Note: Given the limited access to the laboratory due to the coronavirus, there is flexibility in this project to have a large bioinformatics component.


  1. Perez, M.F., and Lehner, B. (2019). Intergenerational and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance in animals. Nature Cell Biology 21, 143-151.
  2. Zuco, G., Kache, V., Robles, P., Chaudhuri, J., Hill, B., Bateson, C., and Pires da Silva, A. (2018). Sensory neurons control heritable adaptation to stress through germline reprogramming. bioRxiv, 406033.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Integrated understanding of health: Ageing

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • Gene editing tools to generated mutant nematodes (e.g., CRISPR/Cas9)
  • Generation of transgenic nematodes (e.g., tagging of specific proteins with fluorescent markers)
  • Microscopy (e.g., time lapse videos, confocal microscopy)
  • Bioinformatics (e.g., writing scripts in Unix, R and Python)
  • Mathematical modelling (R, Python)

Contact: Dr Andre Pires da Silva, University of Warwick