Understanding non-genetic inheritance in Daphnia magna with Raman spectroscopic imaging and mass spectrometry-based metabolomics


Inheritance is an integral part of the evolutionary process. We all know that offspring inherit genes from their parents. But it is now increasingly recognised that parents also transmit ’non-genetic’ factors that interact with genes to shape offspring development. Theory and lab studies suggest that non-genetic inheritance (NGI) can contribute to variation in phenotype and fitness. However, currently genetic-based methods only reveals the changes and not the effect of those changes on offspring and how these phenotypic modifications may confer competitive advantages. This project addresses this by combining whole organism Raman and infrared spectroscopy imaging with mass spectrometry-based metabolomics.

In addition, it remains unclear if, and how, anthropogenic stressors generate NGI. Thus the model system to be used will focus on the effects of acute and chronic pollutant exposure on individuals. We hypotheses that pollution may also affect future, non-exposed descendants if it induces NGI. This might arise if exposure to the pollutant induces epigenetic changes, or alternatively changes the composition, or provisioning of eggs, which could then alter gene expression and patterns of offspring development. These will be elucidated using Raman imaging and metabolomics.

This project aims to address this knowledge gap by testing the hypothesis that in the water flea, Daphnia magna, exposure to pollution alters the egg phenotype and subsequently, the development and life-history of non-exposed descendants.
In this project, you will be using a state-of-the-art metabolomic approach (Raman and infrared spectroscopies, and mass spectrometry) to identify changes in the metabolic profiles of eggs from genetically identical mothers exposed to different types of pollutants. You will then use transcriptomics and confocal microscopy to determine how the development of genetically identical offspring changes when their mothers are exposed to different pollutants, and the consequences this has for life-histories and population growth. Finally, you will develop the Daphnia egg assays as rapid pre-screening tool for use in ecological risk assessment potentially working directly with industry.

The multifaceted nature of this project will give the successful candidate a broad training in modern biology techniques including omics, microscopy, image analysis, experimental design and various multivariate statistical methods. The candidate will join a well-funded lab investigating mechanisms underpinning rapid adaptation, and be part of a vibrant group in Liverpool’s Institute of Integrative Biology where unparalleled facilities (https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/integrative-biology/facilities-and-services/metabolomics-research/) for conducting this research are available.

To apply for this opportunity, please contact the Principal Supervisor Dr H Muhamad Ali on Howbeer.Muhamad-Ali@liverpool.ac.uk to discuss the project and your application.  


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Self-funded project

The project is open to both European/UK and International students. It is UNFUNDED and applicants are encouraged to contact the Principal Supervisor directly to discuss their application and the project - Dr H Muhamad Ali on Howbeer.Muhamad-Ali@liverpool.ac.uk

Assistance will be given to those who are applying to international funding schemes.

The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees and living expenses as well as research costs of £4000 per year.

A fee bursary may be available for well qualified and motivated self-funded applicants.

Details of costs can be found on the University website: View Website



Plaistow, S.J., Shirley, C., Collin, H. Cornell, Harney, E.D. (2015) Offspring provisioning explains clone specific maternal age effects on life history and lifespan in the water flea, Daphnia pulex. The American Naturalist, 186 (3), 376-389.

Muhamadali, H., Chisanga, M., Subaihi, A. & Goodacre, R. (2015) Combining Raman and FT-IR spectroscopy with quantitative isotopic labelling for differentiation of E. coli cells at community and single cell levels. Analytical Chemistry 87, 4578-4586.

Daniel E. Sadler, Franziska S. Brunner, & Plaistow, S.J. (2019) Temperature and clone-dependent effects of microplastics on immunity and life-history in Daphnia magna (accepted in Environmental Pollution, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2019.113178)