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PhD Position in Evolutionary Epigenetics


A PhD position investigating the relevance of epigenetic variation in natural populations to evolution is available in the Wolf Lab at LMU Munich. This project is part of a collaborative effort involving several avian research groups in Europe.


Since the merger of Darwinian evolution and Mendelian hereditary principles at the onset of the 20th century, genetic variation has been at the core of evolutionary research. Genome-wide scrutiny of genetic variation segregating in natural populations has provided fundamental insights into the evolutionary processes underlying adaptation and speciation. Yet, calls for incorporating epigenetic modifications of the DNA blueprint into an extended evolutionary synthesis have repeatedly been made. And indeed, epigenetic variation constitutes an interesting modifier of phenotypic variation and may promote plastic responses allowing populations to explore novel niche space. Evolutionary relevance of epigenetic modification, however, will depend on the relationship between environmental inducibility and trans-generational stability independent of the underlying genetic variation. Comprehensive data on both of these aspects are scarce.

The Project

The research program proposes to fill this knowledge gap using a broad geographic sampling regime of several thousand individuals from pedigree-informed natural populations of two avian species as a model: the great tit, Parus major, and the blue tit, Cyanistes caeruleus. The experimental setup is suited to characterize the intrinsic and external forces shaping diversity in 5mC DNA methylation across various scales of integration. WBGS and RRBS data extracted from all individuals allows quantifying the inheritance patterns of these epigenetic marks within families (parent-offspring, full sibs) leveraging additional power from extra pair young (half sibs). It is also suited to determine the extent of population-level epigenetic variability across diverse environments.


The successful, applicant holds a master degree in a relevant subject and is skilled in bioinformatic analyses with large genome-wide data sets. Previous experience with epigenetic work, and a good understanding of quantitative genetics and statistical modelling (e.g. linear mixed models) is a clear asset.

Research environment

The Wolf lab applies an integrative approach to explore micro-evolutionary processes and genetic mechanisms underlying species divergence, adaptation and genome evolution (1, 2). Using large scale genomic approaches combined with field based experiments, we characterize genetic diversity within and between populations and assess its relationship to phenotypic divergence (3–6) – sometimes interpreting the data under a conservation angle (7, 8). In addition, we explore methodological aspects of data analyses (9, 10) and investigate the evolutionary forces shaping genomes (11, 12). Empirical systems currently include birds (swallows, cuckoos and corvids (4–6, 13, 14)), marine mammals (pinnipeds and killer whales) (8, 15) and fission yeast (16, 17). More information on the research activities in the lab can be found at http://www.evol.bio.lmu.de/research/j_wolf/index.html.

The University of Munich is consistently ranked among the top Universities worldwide, in particular the life science branch with its life science campus offering excellent technical facilities and many interaction possibilities including the Gene Centre, several Max-Planck-Institutes and the Helmholtz Centre (http://www.campusmartinsried.de/en/336-2/#). With the highest concentration of supercomputing in Germany the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre and its local partners provide access to state-of-the art computing facilities (https://www.lrz.de/english/). Munich, Bavaria’s capital, is a vibrant, yet relaxed city with many traditions still alive, a high quality of living and the Alps nearby.

How to apply

Applications including a CV, a statement of motivation and the contact details of at least two referencesin a single .pdf should be sent to evolution@bio.lmu.de with subject header ‘epigenetic position’. The position remains open until filled, starting date as soon as possible.

Literature reflecting lab interests

1. J. B. W. Wolf, H. Ellegren, Nat. Rev. Genet. 18, 87–100 (2017).
2. J. V. Peñalba, J. B. W. Wolf, Nat. Rev. Genet. 21, 476–492 (2020).
3. A. B. A. Shafer, J. B. W. Wolf, Ecol. Lett. 16, 940–950 (2013).
4. U. Knief et al., Nat. Ecol. Evol. 3, 570–576 (2019).
5. J. W. Poelstra et al., Science. 344, 1410–1414 (2014).
6. N. Vijay et al., Nat. Commun. 7, 13195 (2016).
7. A. B. A. Shafer et al., Trends Ecol. Evol. 30, 78–87 (2015).
8. C. R. Peart et al., Nat. Ecol. Evol. 4, 1095–1104 (2020).
9. A. B. A. Shafer et al., Methods Ecol. Evol. 8, 907–917 (2017).
10. C. R. Peart et al., Mol. Ecol. Resour. 21, 2455–2470 (2021).
11. V. M. Warmuth, M. H. Weissensteiner, J. B. W. Wolf, Genome Res. 32, 671–681 (2022).
12. S. Tusso, F. Suo, Y. Liang, L.-L. Du, J. B. W. Wolf, Genome Res. 32, 324–336 (2022).
13. J. A. C. von Rönn, A. B. A. Shafer, J. B. W. Wolf, Mol. Ecol. 25, 2529–2541 (2016).
14. V. E. Kutschera et al., Mol. Biol. Evol. 37, 469–474 (2020).
15. A. D. Foote et al., Nat. Commun. 7:11693, 1–12 (2016).
16. S. Tusso, B. P. S. Nieuwenhuis, B. Weissensteiner, S. Immler, J. B. W. Wolf, Nat. Ecol. Evol. 5, 338–349 (2021).
17. S. Tusso et al., Mol. Biol. Evol. 36, 1975–1989 (2019).