Inner ear development and evolution - investigating prenatal development of the inner ear region at the micro and macro-anatomical level


Sound and head movements are detected by the inner ear, providing signals that are integral to how species move, interact and survive (e.g. Sabbah et al 2017). This project will directly interrogate the remarkable observation that the human inner ear reaches adult size in-utero (Jeffery & Spoor, 2004), well before any obvious functional imperatives to do so. The student will investigate prenatal development of the inner ear region at the micro as well as macro-anatomical level across several Eutherian species and analyse data in relation to phylogeny (e.g. Billet et al 2012 & 2015) allometry and the formation of the surrounding petrous bone.

Training in advanced imaging techniques (e.g. Jeffery et al, 2011), computational modelling, histology (e.g. Vickerton et al 2014) and analyses will be provided and the successful candidate will join the Evolutionary Morphology and Biomechanics group, Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, University of Liverpool. The principal supervisor, Dr Nathan Jeffery, has a 100% success rate with almost all doctoral students going on to secure academic posts in the UK and abroad. The University of Liverpool offers world-class facilities, including microMRI, microCT, supercomputer systems and histology, as well as excellent student support in the form of the Liverpool Doctoral College.

The project will be run in collaboration with Dr Lionel Hautier (University of Montpellier, France) and Dr Guillaume Billet (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, France) with opportunities for laboratory visits subject to the relevant visa requirements. The successful applicant will also have the option of up to a maximum of 6 hours paid anatomy demonstrator work per week (term time only) within the Human Anatomy Resource Centre, subject to relevant experience and qualifications.

The Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease is fully committed to promoting gender equality in all activities. In recruitment we emphasize the supportive nature of the working environment and the flexible family support that the University provides. The Institute holds a silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of on-going commitment to ensuring that the Athena SWAN principles are embedded in its activities and strategic initiatives.

Please note this application will remain open until the a suitable candidtate fills the position. 

To apply: please send your CV and a covering letter to Dr. Nathan Jeffery () with a copy to


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Self-funded project

PLEASE NOTE: There is NO funding attached to this project.
The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees, bench fees of approximately £3000 per year and all living expenses. Details of the cost of study can be found on the University website.



Billet, G., Hautier, L., Asher, R. J., Schwarz, C., Crumpton, N., Martin, T., & Ruf, I. (2012). High morphological variation of vestibular system accompanies slow and infrequent locomotion in three-toed sloths. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, rspb20121212.

Billet, G., Hautier, L., & Lebrun, R. (2015). Morphological diversity of the bony labyrinth (inner ear) in extant xenarthrans and its relation to phylogeny. Journal of Mammalogy, 96(4), 658-672.

Jeffery N., Spoor F. P (2004). Prenatal growth and development of the modern human labyrinth. Journal of Anatomy 204: 71-92

Jeffery N.,Stephenson R., Gallagher J., Jarvis J. and Cox P. (2011). Micro-computed tomography with iodine staining resolves the arrangement of muscle fibres J. Biomech.44: 189-192.

Sabbah S., Gemmer J.A. Bhatia-Lin A., Manoff G., Castro G., Siegel J.K., Jeffery N., & Berson D.M. (2017). A retinal code for motion along the gravitational and body axes. Nature 546, 494-497

Vickerton P, Jarvis J, Gallagher J, Sutherland H, Akhtar R Jeffery N. (2014) Morphological and histological adaptation of muscle and bone to loading induced by repetitive activation of muscle. Proceedings of the Royal Society Part B 281(1788), 20140786